Tips from the Trenches: Managing Family Business Relationships

by | May 25, 2010

Our guest blog post comes from Kris Gray of Integrity Financial Corporation.  Kris speaks about family businesses from two perspectives:  as a service provider to family business owners and as a business owner whose partner is his mother, Julie. 


Michelle asked me to write a short blog about the strong working relationship among my mother and I.  Currently, we both own 50% of Integrity Financial Corporation, which is a boutique business financial planning and wealth management firm in Bellevue.  We have 8 employees, and have been serving our clients since 2004.  We are longtime residents of Bellevue, as I was born in Seattle, and am now raising three children with my wife in West Bellevue. 

Four key concepts came to my mind when I was asked to share some tips in managing family business relationships:

  1. Shared Vision – we have spent considerable time discussing and creating a vision plan for what we would like our company to look like in 1, 3, 5, 10, and 20 years.  We also share a deep commitment to philanthropy related to microfinance training, disaster relief, and at-risk youth globally.  One goal of our success is to fund charitable causes on a monthly basis, dependent on our monthly net profit.  You can be related, but have dramatically different visions, core values, and interests, which would make it difficult to walk the same road together of owning a business for the long run. 
  2.   Humility – one definition of humility is an accurate assessment of one’s strengths as well as one’s own limitations.  Furthermore, being able to recognize and give honor to others who have more talent without feeling insecure would embody humility.  In a small business, just like a basketball team, it is imperative that each players strengths and weaknesses are honestly identified and capitalized upon for the benefit of the team.  It can be difficult for a paternal figure to recognize “blind spots” in themselves, and/or recognize strengths in a child.  Outside counsel and consulting can assist in proper assessments and evaluations of strengths and weaknesses.  We have constantly surrounded ourselves with outside counsel and consultants to help us fine tune our game plan to harness our strengths and outsource/delegate areas of our weaknesses.
  3. Boundaries – I think that in our 24/7/52 technology driven culture, it is increasingly difficult to draw clear boundaries between family time and business time.  However, for those who are successful on this point, they will reap the enjoyable benefits of health and true prosperity.  Practically, we keep business discussions to an absolute minimum on the weekends and evenings.  Instead, we work at finding interest in one another’s lives, hobbies, and passions. 
  4. Clear Succession Plan – a properly drafted succession plan is an important element to any family business.  Who is being groomed to take over the company?  When will the parent retire?  What happens if someone is disabled?  What happens if someone dies?  What is a fare price to purchase the company?  What about other siblings?  The important thing here is to have a plan….even though you can change it down the road!  The clarity of a succession plan, although fairly easy to implement, is a distinguishing factor between a long-term success and/or a short-term disaster that drives a wedge between family members and heirs.

I hope these four topics are helpful in managing your small company.  We wish you great success, as we strive for a robust and thriving Eastside economy.