SALT LAKE CITY — Running a family-owned business can have great rewards if done well and be a source of strife if done poorly, according to entrepreneurs who have traveled that road.
Among the keys to a success is to create a detailed strategy for succession early on to ensure the business has the best leadership making the vital decisions that will determine the company's future.
"You've got to plan, you got to communicate with everybody involved so they have a clear (understanding) of what's expected to be a shareholder in the business," explained Troy Olsen, president of Utah-based office technology firm Les Olson Co. He was part of a panel discussion Wednesday in downtown Salt Lake City focusing on navigating the dynamics of family and business organized by the Family-Owned Business Alliance in conjunction with Zions Bank.
Olson added that something that has worked for their multigenerational business was family members becoming "stewards of the business."
"Meaning it's our responsibility to make sure the business is taken care of for our clients, for all of us as co-workers and shareholders in the business," he said.
He also noted that one of the other keys to long-term success was to strike a balance between familial relationships with operating in the best interest of the business. While family is always very important, efforts must be made to maintain the stability of the business under any and all circumstances, including when it requires letting a beloved relative go.
"We have an honest conversation with them and say, 'Here's what we're seeing. Here are the numbers,'" he explained. "Numbers don't lie usually. We just have those honest conversations with them. Sometimes you've got to make a difficult decision because they're not seeing the way you are or owning their responsibility."
He said that in most situations, the family member eventually comes to an understanding, though they may not be willing to come to Thanksgiving dinner right away.
Fellow panelist Natalie Kaddas, chief executive officer of Salt Lake City plastics manufacturing company Kaddas Enterprises, said when new businesses launch, everyone in the family is typically fully invested trying to get things off the ground. It's when the business becomes more established that key roles for specific people with particular talents should be identified to improve the company's chances for long-term success.
"In a growing, struggling business, it requires that entire investment of the family because it's all-encompassing," Kaddas said. "For a family (business), it takes all the players to make that investment level (along with) the passion and excitement because you're brand new. It's that startup excitement!"
She also advised business owners in the audience to figure out where the right fit is for the players involved in the firm.
"That's so critical, putting the right person in that right position," she said.
She added that being able to discern the difference between what is fair and what is equal is also an important lesson to learn for a successful business.
"(A business) is not an inheritance. An inheritance is something you split fairly," Kaddas explained. "When you've got a family business — with different players playing on different levels. Fair and equal is not the same."
Just because a person has the family name doesn't necessarily entitle them to any preferential treatment when it comes to running the company in the best interests of the business, she said.
"They need to grow into those (high level) roles, not just given the roles because of their last name," she said. "You need to fit into those roles. When you do that and set clear objectives, those critical conversations can become easier when you define those roles."
For those in the audience of the Founders Room of the Zions Bank Building, the advice of the panel was greatly appreciated. Scott Stratton, an attorney with the family-owned Stratton Group law firm in Orem, said hearing from others who have had difficult interactions with family members within the business made him reconsider some of his previous experiences.
"After creating bad feelings with family because of business decisions, you look back years later and say, 'I could have handled that a lot differently had I had some insight and some tools to have some better perspective,'" he said. "That's what I got (from the panel), some ideas and better perspective, some tools and insight to make better decisions."
For others, the panel touched on keys issues such as succession planning.
Don Bowen, 61, and daughter Alisha Doyle, 41, owners of Satori — a Salt Lake City-based hotel construction and renovation company, said they strongly identified with the challenges of passing a family business on to the next generation.
"I wanted someone who could handle the business that I could trust," he said. "She is most capable as CEO of the company."Comment on this story
Doyle noted that her father has said he is now ready to move on (to retirement) knowing the business is in good hands. For her part, she has accepted the leadership knowing she has experience in virtually every facet of the business from the bottom up.
"I was literally hauling garbage (early on) and of course I didn't see the value in it then. I grumbled about it," she said. "But now I appreciate that he made me do almost everything I could possibly do. I appreciate that he made me do that."