What happens when one member of a family-owned and operated business keeps other members in the dark? What do you do when some members of a family are highly personally and emotionally invested in the long term success of the family business while others want nothing more from it than an income stream or a watershed liquidation event? What happens when one family member tries to create and grasp at a golden parachute while watching another family member flying with tail flames? What happens when lifelong promises of financial security through the business and assurances that following one’s passion is practically safe, give way to the threat of financial downfall and insecurity? What does the older generation do when they start to see stirrings of discontent amongst the younger generation? Family relationships or the family business – which comes first?
As Charles Gallagher, director of the Family Business Forum at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business in Richmond, Virginia noted in a March 14, 2013 piece by Ken Otterbourg regarding the Luray Caverns family business dispute, “Family businesses can be quite successful, he said, but the managing and intermingling of blood and commerce, insiders and outsiders, requires a deft hand, planning and enormous amounts of trust.”
It’s true that when the litigation starts, it’s game over for everyone. But what if there were a way to put the brakes on before things even started spinning out of control? What if the family members created a solid, insured, legal and financial foundation beneath the business from the outset complete with answers to as many of the possible foreseeable problems they could? What if they had established a longstanding pattern of holding facilitated family meetings, involving the business’ accountant, lawyer, and managers and shareholders to ensure that everyone involved understood all the reasons behind the business decisions?
What if, instead of litigators, instead of slash and burn tactics and posturing for stronger contractual agreements, there were a neutral facilitator brought into to help the various family members arrive at mutually comfortably agreeable solutions? What if all the family members’ concerns were actually voiced, heard, reflected back, and addressed respectfully? There isa better way and it does not need to involve holding hands and singing kumbaya (although that’s really not such a bad thing).
The necessary first step towards avoiding these family feuds down the line is spending the time, energy, and money to lay the necessary and proper solid legal and financial foundation, insure it from the ground up, and plan for best and worst case scenarios beforeanything pops up to test the strength and stability of the family ties and the family business. That means that even though it’s much more exciting to think about build-outs, wall colors, furniture, and a grand opening, there is critical foundational work that should happen first. The time to bring in the lawyer is at the outset, when you are just starting to think about starting a business, not once there are problems threatening the business.
If you’re starting a new or running an existing small business on Boston’s South Shore, DGVE law® can help you build, nurture, and grow your business™ while preserving personal relationships and protecting family interests. We take a very holistic (or “kumbaya” if you prefer) approach to caring about your business just as much as you do. But we’ll wear the traditional, lawyerly buzzkill goggles to help temper your necessary entrepreneurial enthusiasm when necessary and bolster your efforts and offer encouragement whenever appropriate. We want your small business to succeed because if your business succeeds, your family succeeds and our community succeeds. We’re a local small business trying to do the same. We get it and we’re here to help when you’re ready. Just call us at 781-740-0848 or visit www.dgvelaw.com.