Divorce. Hostility. Families broken apart. Estrangement. Collapse of family relationships. All are words or phrases that describe what happens when family members in family-run businesses are not paying attention to both the business and their relationships with each other.
Steve Berniklau started working for his father’s company right out of school. His father is one of the most astute, analytical and professional people I knew in the business. He was a university professor and Department of Energy executive when he wasn’t being an alarm dealer. His son was eager, aggressive, ethical, honest and, of course, just a pleasure to be around.
The only flaw in the relationship was that Berniklau saw one way of running the business; however, his father didn’t quite see it the same way. And therein lies what could have been a disrupting and unnecessary break in the family relationship.
Through the years, my wife Beverly and I have traveled to Albuquerque on numerous occasions for Balloonfest, and Berniklau and his wife have always graciously hosted us. While I couldn’t disagree with his father’s approach to running a business, it was going to be Berniklau that would have to live with the decisions, implement them and make or break the business on his own.
A rift started to develop, and because I care for them both, I tried to help by doing a little counseling. I certainly am not a professional, but have been involved in and seen enough family-run businesses to know the signs of what can happen when it’s not done properly.
Long story short, the rift was healed, and Berniklau went on to build a highly successful and very strong business. Now, three years after he took over the family business, many of the issues are only a distant memory.
Perhaps you remember the movie “Pay It Forward” in which the title characters do good things for people and tell the recipients to just “pay it forward” as a reward for the favor. Every now and then, I receive a call from someone in a similar situation looking for advice.
I always tell the person to call someone who has had a similar experience and to start the conversation with the phrase, “Ron Davis told me to call and said to tell you to ‘pay it forward’ and help me with the problem.” Recently, Berniklau had a three-hour conversation with another young man who is going through a similar situation in the management of his business.
I am sure most people would agree that there is nothing more important than family. Businesses have the capability of erupting and causing irreparable harm to the relationships of family members. If you’re in a family-run business, don’t let it happen to you. Understand the stress and strain that family members also go through in the day-to-day operations of the business. And if you have gone through a time that has been discomforting, remember what caused you to start working together in the first place.
Ron Davis is Security Sales & Integration's "What's the Big Idea?" columnist and contributing market analyst. He is president of Davis Group, a full-service consulting firm serving the security industry, which also includes GraybeardsRus. He has 35 years of industry experience, including founding Security Associates Int’l in the 1980s.