When it comes to business, you can choose your friends, but you can’t always choose your co-founders and partners.
Family businesses present a dynamic all their own — sometimes fraught with politics and emotional baggage not covered by business studies textbooks.
Yet, they often naturally possess the all-important ingredients for long-term success: trust, a unified vision, commitment, stability, the list goes on.
History is littered with stories of family businesses gone bad, most often linked with family relationships that are irretrievably broken along the way.
One of the most famous involves the Dassler brothers, Rudolph and Adolf, who founded one of the world’s first athletic shoe companies in Germany in the 1920s.
Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory became wildly successful, but tensions between the brothers were so dramatic they parted ways amid allegations of stealing, affairs, revenge and sabotage.
After World War II, Rudi launched his own company Puma, and Adolf countered with Adidas. Their rivalry spurred them along the path to becoming the biggest names in international sportswear, despite the two continuing to sue and countersue each other for much of their lives.
And yet some of the world’s biggest, most successful corporations are family-owned businesses: Walmart, Mars, News Corporation, Ford Motor Company, to name a few.
No doubt they have all had their moments, but going into business with family can provide advantages that can’t be easily replicated within other companies.
Firstly, you pretty much know what you’re getting with family members.
When you’ve known someone all your life, you have a fair idea of how they operate, how they’ll respond under pressure, their strengths and weaknesses, their dedication, their ethical fabric.
In many ways, there should be no big surprises. It shouldn’t take the rough and tumble of commercial reality for traits to surface as it may for other business partners, no matter how well you think you know them.
There’s nothing like sharing a bedroom and backyard soccer games to reveal someone’s true mettle.
Such long-held relationships also give you a head start in resolving any conflicts that might arise, because, chances are, you’ll have done it before. (Yes, that ball did just make it past the goal post.)
That, in turn, builds the invaluable, intangible quality of stability within a company where the people at the top are, in theory, working for the mutual benefit of not only each other but, by extension, their employees and their clients.
That can be surprisingly difficult to replicate at a corporate level.
Making it, together
Let me share my own family business stories if I may.
I left school under the impression I would work for my father’s business, Vergola, a company that designs and supplies opening-closing roofing solutions.
I started there, but my father told me he didn’t want me working for him, and that I had to go and find my own job. He wasn’t going to give me anything on a platter.
So, I worked as an apprentice mechanic, which wasn’t really for me, and when I finished my apprenticeship, I tried again to work for my father.
He told me to ask the factory manager and I spent a couple of years sweeping the floors before I eventually moved to the sales team.
After a while, it hit me: this was always going to be my father’s business and I needed to create my own.
My family business story, part two, is where it all came together.
I started working with my brother Nathan, and together we founded Safetyline Jalousie.
We started out in a two-car garage. Nathan looked after the manufacturing and technical side and I looked after the marketing.
It’s been 10 years of hard work with some hard times and disappointments along the way, but it’s been an amazing experience for the two of us to build something together from nothing.
We’ve had each other’s backs, built each other up when we’ve needed it, given each other flexibility when it’s required, and we’ve made it together. (Sorry, no rivalry, sabotage and revenge stories to report.)
Family businesses carry with them the hallmarks of trust, authenticity and the promise of being around for a while. Customers value those qualities, and so do potential investors.
Of course, there are drawbacks to family businesses as well — my father no doubt had his reservations— but you could do much worse in choosing your friends.