How to Survive a Family Business

Posted by on March 4, 2002

If you run your business like a family, you’re headed for disaster. The only thing that could possibly be worse would be to run your family like a business.

Business values and family values are fundamentally opposite.

Healthy families are built on unconditional acceptance and absolute equality. “No matter what you do, or don’t do, your Mother and I will always love you. And we will always love your brothers and your sisters just as we love you.”

You can’t have favorites in a healthy family.

But unconditional acceptance and absolute equality have no place in a business. Healthy businesses are built on performance-based acceptance. And families are ruined by it.

Are you starting to get the picture?

Stepping up to the platform in the afterglow of a more than complimentary introduction, Lyndon Baines Johnson said, “Thank you. Thank you for that very generous introduction. I only wish that my parents could have heard it… My father would have enjoyed it. And my mother would have believed it.”

LBJ’s dry delivery of that quip makes folks laugh every time I play the recording, but yesterday the thought popped into my mind, “Yes, his mother probably would have believed all those lofty things about him. That’s exactly the sort of lift it takes to raise a child up to become the President of the United States.”

But in a business, such lofty statements are called misrepresentation and fraud.

Can you work productively and successfully with members of your family? Sure you can, just as long as you remember never to talk about home in the workplace, or the workplace at home. To do otherwise can only end badly. And know that while family values will rule in the home, business values will rule in the workplace. Understanding that simple premise, you only need to ask, “Am I at work or am I at home?”

Roy H. Williams

PS – The March 20-22 session of Wizard Academy is completely sold out and April is beginning to fill up as well. For an update, visit or call Corrine Taylor at (800) 425-4769. Outside the US, (512) 295-5700.

THANK YOU to the many hundreds of you who sent in suggested topics for future Monday Morning Memos. After I’ve read all the emails, I’ll give you a summary – RHW

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