Achieving the elusive balance between work and family time is a difficult feat at the best of times. When your colleagues are also your family members, however, there is an even greater need to ensure you spend quality time with your loved ones, as these business owners know all too well.
Parents and children
“[It can be] very testing at times, and I think that that comes from the perspective of having probably too much family time, not having a break from each other and always talking about business,” explains real estate agent Catherine Taylor.
Ms Taylor is the director of Taylor Real Estate in the NSW Hunter Valley, the second office of her parents Peter and Lou Taylor’s long-established estate agency in Sydney.
“I actually very much enjoy working in a family business,” she says.
“It brings you closer together as a family unit, because you completely understand the stresses, you understand the financial position of the family, you understand how everybody is feeling.”
She believes other benefits to operating a business with loved ones include greater flexibility in working hours.
Of course there are challenges, such as the potential for younger family members to be under greater expectations to perform than other staff from outside of the family. Yet Ms Taylor says that establishing boundaries between when to talk shop and when to give it a break have been a key focus for her family.
“We needed to be clear about not talking about things outside of work so that everybody can have some down time and just be a normal family.”
A side effect of this has been each member of the family placing a greater emphasis on personal hobbies as a means of spending time apart.
To avoid letting differences of opinion about work matters bleed through into their personal relationships, Ms Taylor says the family place great emphasis on defining everyone’s role and responsibilities within the business, minimising the scope for the lines to become blurred.
When it comes to operating a family business, Ms Taylor says “you need to have fun with it, and it doesn’t always have to be so serious. But everybody should talk about things”.
“If there’s problems, if someone is unhappy, if they’re feeling like they don’t have enough space, then they really need to be open and have an open discussion, because that really stops anybody having massive arguments or disagreements that escalate out of control,” she says.
“I guess the first level of couple conflict … is the struggle for rightness – that I’m right and you’re wrong. Once you get over the defence of your own ego and you no longer play that game, then that’s a big first step towards being able to work together effectively and resolve conflict,” says Glyn Brokensha.
Mr Brokensha is someone with a better idea than most about conflict, having trained and practiced as a psychotherapist. Today, he and partner Carolyne Burns run the staff selection software provider Expr3ss! that they co-founded several years ago.
“Conflict is actually a magical thing, it is not a bad thing. Most of us avoid conflict because we don’t like it, but if it’s well managed, you see it as a crucible in which new things are created,” says Mr Brokensha.
“It’s a little bit like the notion of stereo sound: the left speaker’s not right, and the right speaker’s not wrong. By listening to them both, you get a much greater depth and understanding and experience out of the music.”
He explains that their approach to working together, as well as living together, is to never compromise and wind up with something that neither of them are entirely happy with, but to push on with a “robust” discussion until a mutually agreeable solution can be found.
In doing so, however, the couple are particular about focusing all of their discussion on the issue at hand and not letting things get personal.
“Resolving conflict means letting the two sets of ideas bash against each other until something better is created,” explains Mr Brokensha.
“Most people give up too early because they get personally invested and they get hurt. By refusing to get into that lower level of discourse, where each person is criticising the other, you can stay strong on the issue while being kind, soft and respectful.”
Ms Burns adds that particularly for family-operated businesses, putting aside the “moral rightness” allows you to focus on the bigger picture, which is the shared vision you have for the direction in which you want your business to grow.
“And recognising each other’s talents – if you don’t do that, and you can’t see where each other’s talents lie, then you’re doomed.”
Key facts on family business:
•80 per cent of Australian family businesses indicated they had experienced conflict or tension between family members within the previous 12 months.
•The top three sources of conflict were vision, goals and strategy; balancing business and family needs; lack of family communication.
•31 per cent of family businesses have a family constitution – up from just 20 per cent in 2011.
•55 per cent of family businesses planning to pass on the leadership within two to three years don’t think their successor is ready. Financial management, strategic planning and managing people are the main areas needing improvement before they hand over the reins.
Source: KPMG’s Family Business Survey 2015
Family businesses that made it big
Family businesses generally start small, but sometimes they go on to become corporate giants, from which the founding families never fully remove themselves. Consider the following examples of big businesses which have maintained links to their family roots:
Ray White / Raine&Horne
Both the Ray White and Raine & Horne real estate networks have been owned and operated by their respective families for more than a century. Each has grown from a boutique agency to a multinational conglomerate spanning property and financial services, but generations later, both still
remain independently owned and operated by members of the founding families.
From humble beginnings as a newspaper publisher in Adelaide, News Corp has grown into one of the largest media empires in the world. While now a listed company, members of the founding Murdoch family still maintain a strong influence among the leadership team.
Shopping centre group Westfield is virtually synonymous with the Lowy family and its billionaire co-founder Frank Lowy, who remains chairman
today after more than 50 years in the business. Two of his sons, Peter and Steven Lowy, remain joint CEOs of the listed group.
Aussie Home Loans
Family has always been espoused as a key factor in the success of the mortgage company. Founder “Aussie John”, aka John Symond, brought in family members to help start the fledgling business in the 1990s. Today Aussie is owned by Commonwealth Bank, but Aussie John remains its chairman and his nephew James occupies the CEO’s chair, having entered the business as a school leaver and working his way up through the ranks.
Electronics retailer Bing Lee has operated in Australia since 1957, when it was established in western Sydney by Bing Lee and his son Ken, initially servicing new migrants to Australia. Ken Lee inherited the reins and helped grow the business into a household name. Today, the business is still
under family ownership, and is operated by Ken’s widow Yenda and their son Lionel.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.