On Consulting Issues
The Family Business Shared Interest
Mark I. Sirkin,
Family Business Shared Interest Group (SIG) had its first
meeting in Pasadena, CA at the 2004 Mid-Winter Conference.
Its mission is to support those Society (Division
13) consultants who are, or would like to, consult to family
owned, or controlled, businesses.
to The Consulting Psychologist™
businesses (FOBs) are as old as business itself, reaching back
beyond the beginning of recorded history.
The oldest known FOB, continuously owned and controlled by a
single family, is a Japanese construction company well over 1,400
years old. The largest FOBs are well-known brands such as Wal-Mart,
Ford, and Motorola, to name a few.
It is estimated that there are over 6 million family-owned
businesses in the U.S. alone, and many more throughout the world.
However, considering that only 27% of these enterprises
survive to the second generation, they are strong candidates for
consultation services. Consulting psychologists are uniquely
qualified to help these enterprises meet the challenges of balancing
financial, organizational, and family dynamics.
family business consultant will tell you, on a good day, the work is
a heady combination of high risk, high profile, high stakes
consulting opportunities. But
not for the faint of heart, because on a bad day, the complexity of
the challenges, the height of the passions, and the
multi-disciplinary needs of the business can be overwhelming.
Family business consulting is a specialty within a specialty
for those psychologists who have been willing to take up the
focuses on four experienced family business consultants.
I posed a series of questions to each of four Society
Bernard Kliska is a family business consultant with the Family Business Consulting
Group in Chicago, IL. He
is co-chair of the Society’s Family Business SIG.
led you to become a family business consultant?
I began my professional career as a
psychologist in Los Angeles. After being in private practice for 8
years I got a call from my wife’s family. They owned a business
in Chicago (glass and plastic containers). There were no family
members who wanted to work in the business and they asked that I
get involved. I remained at the firm for 23 years, eventually
becoming Chairman of the Board. Our 2 sons joined the business.
Our daughter, although not interested in working with us, felt an
entitlement to ownership since the business had been in existence
for 90 years and other family members had stock in the company.
We went through the
usual succession and ownership issues that most family businesses
address. We hired a family business consultant to help with these
challenges. This is how I learned about the family business
consulting profession. When I left the company I was asked to join
the Family Business
are your biggest challenges? The biggest challenge in consulting
with a family in business is to be able to separate oneself from
the pressure and anxiety of the family. One must know what tools
one needs and how and when to use them. It is also most important
for one to have a clear understanding of the culture one is
What are some of the rewards of Family Business
consulting for you?
I have found that over the years of
working with family businesses, more and more women are getting
involved. This has given me an opportunity to help them achieve
goals that were not possible in the past. What I find most
rewarding in working with families is seeing positive change
taking place and seeing that families are not destroyed because of
the business or businesses are not destroyed because of the family
and knowing that I played a part in helping them meeting their
(Bill) Criddle, Ph.D./MBA has a private consulting practice based in
led you to become a family business consultant?
As I surveyed the business landscape,
I was struck by the sheer number of family businesses out there.
The high potential for problems (almost guaranteed in fact!) in
these businesses, with the extra layer of family dynamics in
addition to the many non-family business issues made them good
candidates for my unique combination of clinical and business
skills. Also, the
non-clinical professionals such as lawyers and accountants
didn’t want to deal with the highly charged emotions in a family
business that is struggling, while my clinical colleagues felt
unprepared to deal with the very real business issues that these
families faced. I
felt that the necessity of clinical skills and experience to
effectively handle these issues would give me a competitive edge
with my background in clinical work and business.
are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work with FOBs?
One of my first referrals after
finishing my MBA and starting my practice as a Management
Psychologist was a family business comprised of three brothers who
had been left owning equal shares of a major agricultural firm and
were having intense and emotional battles in attempting to work
assignment, which lasted
10 years with the senior brother finally buying out the other two,
was really gratifying. It was with this client that I witnessed a
phenomenon, which I have subsequently seen elsewhere, of family
members – in this the case the three brothers – who are
battling it out in the boardroom, yelling at each other, accusing
each other of not pulling their weight, even name calling, for
month after month. Then,
when a personal crisis or tragedy happens to one of them (the
death of a spouse, a divorce), one or both of the other siblings
takes off his business cap, puts on his brother cap, and goes out
of his way to be supportive, offering comfort, and spending time
with the brother in pain, willing to put the animosity aside for
the time being.
can the Society be most helpful to family business consultants
like you? Basically just by keeping the
challenges of working with family business on the agenda for
workshops, presentations, sharing of experiences and things that
work and don't. I’d
like to see more articles in the journal about working with family
businesses. Also, I
would like to see one event on the agenda every year at our
Mid-Winter Conference related to working with family businesses
since there is so much potential in this area for psychological
consultants to businesses.
Christine A. Maginn, PhD, MBA has been a consultant to employee assistance
programs and with senior executives, managers and support staff, as
well as, family businesses and entrepreneurs.
Her offices are in Glendale and Irvine, California.
led you to become a family business consultant?
decision to become a family business consultant came about as the
result of the convergence of my background, training and experience
as a psychologist and MFT with my passion for business that arose
out of growing up in an entrepreneurial family.
Over the years, I have worked with entrepreneurs, small
business owners and organizations.
Much of that work has centered on executive coaching and
leadership development, as well as providing training and EAP
consulting to corporations. I
found that many of the skills that I have acquired over the years
are transferable to the “soft skill” side of family business
issues. In an effort to
gain greater knowledge and credibility in the business arena, I
decided to return to graduate school and earned an MBA from USC’s
Marshall School of Business. Having
an MBA has greatly improved my ability to better understand the gaps
between the people skill side of running a successful business and
the bottom line profitability that companies must achieve in order
are some of the typical challenges that you deal with in your work
individuals within family businesses get stuck and cling to the past
way of doing things, inter-generational conflicts are often ignited.
For example, when senior leadership resists the need to
integrate a new technology platform that is necessary to compete in
today’s global marketplace, the continued success of the business
is threatened. The
inability to adapt to the ever-changing demands of an industry can
lead to the ultimate demise of a family business.
However, working with multi-generations of family members as
they move through the various lifecycles of a business in such a way
that helps them develop greater flexibility in their thinking, adapt
more readily to the ever-changing global marketplace, and align
their core values and strategic objectives, consultants can help
families create a sustainable business model.
Is there anything unique about your
approach that characterizes your work with these families? Family
business is inherently risky business.
According to the Family Firm Institute, family businesses
comprise between 80 and 90% of all business enterprises in North
America. Within the
next five years, the leadership of 39% of family-owned businesses
will have changed hands. Only
12% of family owned businesses will be viable into the third
generation and 3% into the fourth and beyond. I have outlined
some of the critical factors that I, and other family business
consultants, can and should address
where appropriate to help families move from being stuck in certain
areas to refocusing and implementing best practices that help
facilitate their success.
leads to failure and success of family businesses? Below is a framework that I have found very helpful in
working with clients:
Risk of Failure
Keys to Success
respect for differences
values & goals
of core values and
with a myopic vision
with a clear vision
of depth of new leadership
business model that fits with the developmental phase of the
strategies & tactics
of best practices
family members to positions well beyond their current
of necessary business skills that fit job requirements & a
willingness to hire talent outside the family when necessary
there is a growing need for family businesses to hire consultants
that can help families successfully resolve conflicts and maneuver
through the sometimes sensitive issues related to succession
planning and transfer of power.
Consulting psychologists have many transferable “soft
skills” that can help individuals within family businesses work to
improve communication, resolve conflicts, address inter-generational
differences, enhance leadership skills, help families align their
core values and strategic objectives, build effective teams, and
work together in a collaborative manner, in order to enhance the
sustainability of their company and thrive in today’s global
Everett Moitoza, EdD, MBA is
a licensed psychologist with a nation-wide family business
consultancy based in Rye, New Hampshire.
led you to begin working with family owned businesses?
Almost twenty years ago a successful businessman from
Boston’s Italian North End called me on the telephone.
His voice resembled Marlon Brando.
I thought, “This has got to be a joke!”
It wasn’t. He
was calling about problems in his third generation family business.
He and his two brothers were having a great deal of conflict and
trouble deciding how or if they should expand their family food
had different ideas. And
their wives, adult children and even grandchildren had still other
ideas, goals and objectives – some honorable, some not.
They were experiencing more conflict and impasse than usual
and the newly hired non-family chief operations officer (COO) and
his wife had told them about me. At that time, she was taking a graduate psychology course in
family/systems therapy that I was teaching in Cambridge. They had
spoken and thought that my particular way of blending cross-cultural
psychology and family systems could be helpful to this
So one of the brothers called to see if I could help.
He warned me that the brothers sometimes yelled a lot when
they argued. He wanted
to know if that would bother me. I said that I myself was of second generation Azorean
Portuguese descent and that as long as they waved and spoke with
their hands while they yelled, I would probably be fine and
understand most of what they said.
And as they say, “The rest was history.”
I fell in love with the brothers, their family, the business
and their food. I relished the emancipation from my consulting room
arm-in-arm with the family patriarch, being introduced to multitudes
of community members on the street, and occasionally stopping at
both the church for “a visit” and the corner tavern for “a
little taste” gave new meaning to my personal and professional
life. I was hopeful
that this consultation experience might be my professional and
personal “mid-life crisis.”
It was. During
this work I began formal studies for an MBA, and launched a new
career as a family business consultant.
are some of the services that you typically provide as a family
While generational succession drives
seventy-five percent of my engagements, a sample of some of the work
I do with client families might include any, or all, of the
planning and implementation; Strategic business and family planning
for future; Assistance with development of communication skills;
Conflict management and negotiation skills; Executive coaching;
Development of family and non family Senior Management Teams;
Realignment and resolution of various sibling problems; Assistance
in family estate planning; Assistance with hiring and firing;
Consultation to the Human Resources department of the company;
Assistance with compensation issues; Development of effective
governance structures to business and family; Developing family
councils to assist as an internal family management tool; Bridging
cross-generational beliefs, ideas, values, goals; Developing and
facilitating retreats for the family and the business; Helping
non-family employees in the business understand and negotiate the
complexities of the business/family they work within; Assist various
departments with organizational development problems/issues;
Assistance with merger and acquisition issues re: organizational
culture, fit and process; Developing performance measurement
instruments for family and non-family members – to mention a few
of the activities in which I get engaged.
In reality, all of the work I do is
custom-fit for the family and the family business.
Both the strategic needs of the business and the
developmental needs of the family and its members dictate what
services I will provide. Often I am initially contracted to provide a relatively small
service - like assisting with sibling selection for an executive
position which develops into a series of discrete consulting
projects that may last many years.
Any words of advice for someone thinking
about entering the field of family business consulting?
Training and supervision are required of
psychologists when they enter new specialties and family business
consultation is no exception. While
an MBA is certainly not necessary, an organized training and
supervision sequence that follows outlined ethical practices, an
organized sequence of skill development, study and supervision are
strongly recommended. Personally, I have also found that understanding basic
cross-cultural variables, as they pertain to family values, beliefs,
ideas and behaviors, is invaluable. Generational transitions and
overall decisions about change are greatly impacted here.
The excitement of helping families and their
businesses, while complicated and demanding, is tremendously
satisfying and enjoyable. The
consultant can be more self-disclosing and have a bit more personal
relationship with the client. Boundaries
remain necessary, but not impersonal.
Psychologists who enter this arena will need to enjoy
business travel, be comfortable with action-based interventions, be
decisive, be directive, understand basic business language, thinking
and finances, and like to be themselves with their clients.
Oh, and playing a decent game of golf, or in my case Bocci,
doesn’t hurt either!
Sirkin, Ph.D. began his
professional life helping his brother assume control of
the family business after the sudden death of his father. An academic clinical psychologist and family
therapist for many years, he completed certification in
Organizational Consultation and Development in 1992. He developed a specialty in working with family businesses
which he brought to his work at RHR International in 1994. He has had his own consulting firm and is the founder of a
start-up information services and human capital
development company. He has recently joined the Hay Group as a
consultant in the Organizational Effectiveness and
Management Development practice. He is the author of The Secret Lives of
Corporations, soon to be published by New Chrysalis Press,
in which there is a chapter on family businesses. He is founding chair, and current co-chair, of the Family
Business SIG of the Society of Consulting Psychologists
(Division 13 of the APA).