Co-workers and kin can gain insight from family-business resources

The family-owned business has always played a central role in the American economy — and as part of the American dream itself. According to some sources, up to 90 percent of American businesses are family owned and make up about 50 percent of the U.S. gross national product. They range from mom-and-pop small businesses to Fortune 500 firms.

Family businesses can endure for generations, providing for family and an extended family of employees. They often have high standards of quality and represent the best of American business values.

They also have a unique set of financial and management challenges that occur when business and family issues collide. Fortunately, there are numerous excellent resources that provide keen insights into the challenges of family business.

Family Businesses: The Essentials

By Peter Leach

Beginning with a discussion of why family businesses are special, this book provides a comprehensive look at how to effectively manage this unique type of firm. While some areas such as succession and leadership are part of any organization, there are unique features including culture and values that make the family business particularly challenging.

Family businesses can benefit by having clearly defined values, vision and purpose. Understanding on the part of all the family members involved of the strategic vision of the company can help to build open communication and family teamwork.

The section on the leadership challenge of managing succession is particularly insightful. Effectively planning for succession is often the decisive factor of whether or not the business survives or fails. Only about 5 percent of family firms survive past the third generation.

If you are in a family business or considering one, Family Businesses should be on your reading and reference list.

Family Wars: The Real Stories behind the Most Famous Family Business Feuds

By Grant Gordon and Nigel Nicholson

This page-turner of a business book reveals the great and the gritty of family-owned businesses. It presents nearly two dozen case studies that illustrate the dynamics of conflict in family business.

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