• Dr. Ann Sophie Löhde Prof. Dr. Tom-Arne Rüsen, Wittener Institut für Familien­unter­nehmen

So it stays in the family.

(Reading time: 3 - 6 minutes)

114 Witten ILLU bleibt in der Familie

From the research workshop. Entrepreneurial families are as unique as any private small family - but they have one very specific goal in common: to keep the company successful in the family for future generations. To achieve this, different types of families must find answers to different questions.

The supreme goal is fixed in countless family constitutions as a preamble: Das company should remain in the family. Only the way is not so clear. It is therefore exciting for scientists to ask: How can an entrepreneurial family ensure the long-term existence of a family business?

First of all, an entrepreneurial family must understand and organize itself as such. To this end, it is necessary to approach the complexity of the construct "entrepreneurial family" as the interface of three different social systems - company, owner, family.

This process often takes place in connection with the development of a family strategy, which contains all important aspects of the entrepreneurial family in twelve steps - from the value system and competence development programme to conflict management, succession planning for the family business and a set of rules for communication.

In such a family-strategic process, the entrepreneurial family reflects its self-image as a family and its relationship to the company and its assets. What is decisive is not what stands at the end of such a process, but the questions that an entrepreneurial family must ask itself in this process.

Analogous to a corporate strategy, the family strategy pursues the goal of developing a long-term vision of the future and defining behaviors for the family members that correspond to this vision. Answers to central questions on securing future viability look different from the entrepreneurial, owner and family perspectives. They therefore demand different perspectives. It is precisely these paradoxes that need to be balanced out by a family strategy. This ensures that the entrepreneurial family is a long-term guarantee for the success of the family business and does not develop into a risk factor.

Of course, this applies in principle to all entrepreneur families. However, they are confronted with different challenges, depending on their development and stage of development. Depending on the turnover and age of the family business as well as the number of shareholders and generations, other central risk factors emerge.

By means of a typification, the important factors for a long-term asset protection can be discussed and recommendations for action can be formulated. The results of a recent study show that very different priorities need to be set within the framework of a family strategy.

The first type describes the "small entrepreneur family". It consists of a manageable number of partners - on average four persons -, often only one family branch. The entrepreneurial family as such has only existed for one to two generations and is generally still operating in the family business. It usually organises itself in "logic as a small family" and sees no need for more professional family management structures. The orientation of its members typically takes place by adopting patterns of action and behaviour from the senior to the junior generation.

At the latest when several core families are formed in the following generations, however, this form of action and behaviour control can hardly be achieved. The greatest challenge now is to initiate inter-family strategic family considerations before the values of the core families disintegrate when dealing with the joint family business and the rights and duties of the family members.

The "large entrepreneur family" (type 2) owns a medium-sized to large company and has corresponding assets. It consists of several family branches and has between ten and 30 members.

These families are already faced with the first challenges of managing cohesion. Die Proximity to family business declines sharply. Various value systems have emerged within the individual core families.

Often institutions have already been established to strengthen the "us" as an entrepreneurial family - for example family days. Here it is absolutely central to develop a common set of values within a professional framework. Constructive forms in dealing with diversity, working through old blockades and interrupting latent conflict dynamics are central elements of such a process.

This transition, in which the family begins to understand itself as an "organized family" and thus gives up a bit of familiarity, is not easy, however. The family learns to be both a family and an entrepreneurial family at the same time - and paradoxically must become a bit of an organisation at this stage in order to be able to remain a family permanently.

A "dynastic entrepreneurial family" as the third type is characterised by a family business with very high turnover or very large family assets. There are many family members, the circle of partners has usually grown to more than 50 members.

Institutions have usually already been created to preserve the community. Often there is a supervisory body that performs the entrepreneurial steering and control tasks. And a caretakers' committee which, as a professional structure, ensures the cohesion of the family. In many cases there is neither a direct connection to the company nor to the core families among each other. Therefore, the organisation of the entrepreneurial family requires professional structures which also ensure that the members' competencies are systematically developed as partners.

Unfortunately, there is often no systematic anchoring of the contents of the family strategy in the consciousness of the individual family members. It is precisely here that continuous (self-)management of the entrepreneurial family is required to ensure that the rights and duties of its members are preserved in the awareness of their members over generations.

Our studies on this topic show that especially entrepreneurial families of type one, but sometimes also of type two, often do not yet see the need to professionalize themselves. Here the fiction of consensus dominates, to be able to "pull oneself together" as a family. The most important thing seems to be to maintain established expectation and communication structures between persons - which result from the core family logic - and to adapt them to the family situation.

However, these families are also facing the next generational transition, and it can be assumed that their number of members and thus their complexity will grow steadily. Accordingly, it is important to position the family in a position where it is able to enkkel at an early stage with regard to its common role and task as a responsible owner. So that the company stays in the family. ®

Authors: Dr. Ann Sophie Löhde

Prof. Dr. Tom-Arne Rüsen, Witten Institute for Family Businesses

The entire study can be found at: www.wifu.de/bibliothek/die-unternehmerfamilie-und-ihre-familienstrategie/

Illustration: Tom Cool

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