Unlocking the Entrepreneurial Gene in the Family Business

Unlocking the Entrepreneurial Gene in the Family Business
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What holds true for fathers is also true for entrepreneurs; becoming one is easy enough, but being one can be very rough. In both cases, a strong set of social skills is required. Knowledge and technical skills do not suffice to successfully take over and run a family business. It also requires a strong will, i.e. a highly motivated person legitimated by co-owners. A business coach can help make this personal journey a success story.

The vast number of training options available for family entrepreneurs is – to put it mildly – vast. One of the reasons might be that there is no such thing as a skill checklist one can simply tick off to achieve entrepreneurial success. Surprising, if you think of all the exams and training required for so many kinds of jobs and activities. However, this does not apply to becoming and being an entrepreneur.

Neither know-how of a specific industry or product, an MBA from an elite business school, nor particularly good English skills seem to be decisive factors for entrepreneurial success. Such are mere hygiene factors – factors such as salary, job security, or status that do not give positive satisfaction or lead to higher motivation, though dissatisfaction results from their absence. According to the FIF study, social skills like motivational capability, a focus towards future goals and the ability to achieve them, leadership skills, risk appetite accompanied by a sense of responsibility, as well as problem-solving competencies, are crucial.

A family business CEO listed four key skills he considers essential for the next generation to achieve growth within the family business: international experience, strategic thinking, strong financial skills to examine the financial situation, and financing strategies as well as digital knowledge to digitize both the business model and relevant processes within the family firm.

The “entrepreneurial gene” is key

Once a succession arrangement is agreed upon, successors in family business should ask themselves some basic questions. Do I consider my succession a duty, a chance, or even a vocation? Do I accept my succession, because my predecessor wants me to? Do I want to change something in the company or even reposition the business?

Experience from coaching tells us that long-term happiness only results from choices that we make when we follow our inner calling. And that may as well lead us outside of the family business.

Before entering a family business, you should be aware of the other stakeholders’ as well as (family) shareholders’ expectations towards you. Of the web of interests you will be surrounded by. Of the things your predecessor wants you to do. Of the question whether your siblings, if any, agree to your succession.

The Zeppelin University study reveals that entrepreneurs expect tremendous personal commitment from their successors, notably where business opportunities are concerned. They long for ambitious “gold diggers”, not only following in their footsteps, but also discovering and adopting new approaches.

It’s easy to be the boss when everything runs smooth

Yet, there’s a first crisis for every entrepreneur, such as when competition rises, business shrinks or profitability declines. You will ask yourself, “Can I really do this? Will it destroy me and my family?” Entrepreneurs are not immune to over-straining, and are susceptible as anyone else of burn-out or fear for their existence. To prevent any of this from happening, they are well-advised to learn how to handle pressure, stress, and times of crisis properly.

Particularly in times of crisis, entrepreneurs need to prove their leadership skills and motivational abilities

According to the entrepreneurs questioned by Zeppelin University, this is where they see the biggest backlog. And that this kind of learning process will never stop, since both experienced family entrepreneurs, as well as their respective successors, are basically forced to develop their capabilities throughout their lives and regularly challenge their practical knowledge. A coach, as a facilitator for ideas and inspiration, can assist.

Coaching helps you to become a great leader and achieve goals faster

A coach will help you to keep your feet on the ground – during and after periods of success – and look at things in a realistic and self-reflective manner. Coaching allows you to identify the company’s weaknesses more quickly and come up with a solution. Personal strengths and goals are defined more clearly and your individual management style will be sculpted, in light of your predecessor’s style. As an independent observer, a coach allows you to get a good idea of the different interests your family members may have in the company and to run through potential conflicts.

A coach will not help you carry the boxes up the stairs, but he will help you see ways of carrying them faster and more efficiently. Thus, it can be a catalyst to develop and sharpen relevant entrepreneurial skills. And even if these skills cannot be taught in a classical “school” sense, a business coach can act as a neutral entity providing advice and acting as your sparring partner – to make your personal journey a success story for you and your family.

This article was written with great support from Dr. Ursula Koners, Institute Manager of the Friedrichshafen Institute for Family Business (FIF) at Zeppelin University.