Some years ago, I heard about “reverse mentoring” and I found it a great idea to apply during my mentoring sessions with young professionals from then on. Three months after my book “Secrets of success for family businesses in the new era” is published (still only in Greek) I am thinking that this concept can also be extended to the relationship between family businesses and non-family corporate organizations. Undoubtedly, family businesses can reverse their traditional role and instead of trainees-for-ever become trainers for a lot of corporates, multinationals included.
Does it sound weird? Well, it is not.
Let me explain why in 13 steps.
1. Long-standing family businesses have a solid PURPOSE to start with. This has been the dream of the founder, the heritage to the successors, the culture penetrating the company from one side to the other.
2. Being brave enough to take a step that includes risk, the risk that might have a negative impact on the family members, explains why someone is a family business founder. In such businesses, BOLDNESS is THE way to approach life.
3. There is no other alternative in a healthy family business than work wholeheartedly (that means work with body, mind, and SOUL). This is how family businesses grow to become great companies with engaged employees and caring shareholders.
4. Effort, sweat, sometimes even tears, are part of the game, too. HARD WORK is not an “option”; it is a fact of life in every family business! There is no fear, no avoidance, no complaint about it. This is also an inherited advantage. Healthy family businesses base their success, among other things, on hard work, too. This is a solid-base success that will not be ruined even under the most challenging circumstances.
5. SPEED (of deciding and acting) is the name of the survive-and-thrive game for family businesses. They need to adapt fast so that they gain a competitive advantage. Consequently, there is no place for delay-creating bureaucratic processes.
6. AGILITY is another great characteristic of family businesses up to a certain size. Being agile gives them the opportunity to continuously disrupt and reinvent themselves before the competition disrupts and kills them.
7. Nothing starts in a family business unless it is good for the customer. CONSTANT CUSTOMER ORIENTATION is the standard “obsession” widely spread in all functions of a family business. The truth is it pays off tremendously well. Customers are the center of the family business universe and their satisfaction is the top criterion for any initiative (sales, marketing, production, even CSR) to be “classified” as successful.
8. In big corporates they call it “continuous improvement” and there are lots of business plans and company initiatives behind it. In family businesses they do not have a name for it; they just do it. They seek every little opportunity to satisfy their RELENTLESS DESIRE FOR ADVANCEMENT in all fields of operations.
9. HUMILITY is what makes some family businesses extremely creative, respected, and long-term successful. It is rare, therefore enormously valuable.
10. CARING FOR PEOPLE (in the same way parents care for their children) is a natural component of every strong family business. The family environment is extended into business, employees and partners are treated as members of the extended family. This enhances the feeling of belonging on one part and it also increases loyalty on the other.
11. In family businesses the boundaries between life and work are vague. BUSINESS-INTEGRATED LIFE is an invincible advantage that gives family businesses the opportunity to multiply results at a faster pace than in any other business scheme. For a family business owner, it is normal to arrange her personal activities of the day like lunch, dinner, physical exercise, and entertainment in direct relation to business targets. In some cases, it is difficult to indicate whether life is bigger than business or the opposite.
12. FAMILY CULTURE is the “jacket” that encompasses all the above powerful characteristics of a vigorous family business. Each family business has its own specific family culture comprising of a variety of values. There is a common value, however, dominant in all family business cultures, hugely differentiating family businesses from non-family businesses. This is the “family value”.
13. Behind long-term successful family businesses there are decent entrepreneurs who act with integrity and who have built and operated their businesses on the principles of ETHICAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP, which, by the way, has also proven to be sufficiently profitable.
None of the 13 above-mentioned qualities is unique to family businesses only. One can find them in non-family businesses, too: some of them each time, not all of them simultaneously. What is worth noticing is that these 13 traits are present in EVERY long-term successful family business. So, although none of the 13 qualities is unique by itself, the concurrent combination of all 13 is! This could be a useful lesson from a family business to a multinational.
(To avoid misunderstandings, we do not declare that there is no incompetence in family businesses. But we do sustain that above mentioned 13 merits of family businesses can make up for the incompetence that might exist!)