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Help Me With a Conflict in My Family Business

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Dear Oaklyn Consulting,

Three members of our family business (a father and two sons) are not getting along. The father isn’t retiring and wants to control the business, while the sons would like to sell the business. What advice do you have for the sons in this case? Should they consider breaking off and doing something on their own, or do they have other alternatives for how to deal with the situation?


From Oaklyn Consulting

It sounds like you care deeply about your family relationships and are seeing the strains created by overlapping business and personal relationships.

We turned to Todd Garretson of Next Chapter Family Business Advisors for a perspective on the approaches that help family members work together in business.

Todd says, “Conflict (disagreement and family dynamics) is an inevitable reality inside the traditional family structure as we’ve come to know it. It’s even more prevalent inside families who also own/operate a business. In fact, almost 75% of family business owners cite conflict resolution and communication challenges as top concerns. The good news is that there are a number of ways that family business owners can identify, work on, and enhance these areas together.

If there is a desire to see the business remain in the family, below are a few strategies that can help (ideally facilitated by a 3rd party):

  • Commitment to understand and work through points of conflict or disagreement
  • Crafting and working a set of intentional communication principles when meeting and working together (enhancing the culture)
  • Developing some clear roles and responsibilities in the business, as owners and within the larger family
  • Consideration to developing a formal or informal board of directors which can provide founders with a future transition plan (up, not out)

Our firm is called into the discussion when there is sufficiently serious concern about the business remaining in the family that the leadership group – family members or board directors – wants to understand the practical opportunities for changing ownership. This might be an ownership change to finance the future transition plan by, for example, buying out the patriarch, or it might be because the owners have concluded that future family ownership is possibly not the best path for the business, family members, or both.

We are particularly impressed by family ownership groups and boards of directors who periodically try to understand the actionable alternatives for changing ownership as a way to validate their decision to stick with family ownership. This can seem like a cold-hearted approach, but we think it leads to stronger conviction when there is a decision to work through conflicts in service of a thriving family-run business.”

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