Larry Grypp, President of The Goering Center
It’s one of the most endearing and enduring slogans in advertising history. From when founder Jerome Smucker started selling his apple butter back in 1897 out of his cider mill in Orrville, Ohio, to four subsequent generations of family leaders who have propelled the business to one of the largest of its sector in the world, it has always been Smuckers.
Yet, at a more individual level, with a name like Smuckers, you better be in the family business. All indications are that family members are perfectly fine with their place in the business (they have fended off several takeover attempts and buy-out offers from big brand food companies), but there is a certain inevitability and sense of destiny about it as well. What else are you supposed to do in life with a name like Smuckers?
Research and our own experience at Goering Center makes the case that having a longer-term vision for multi-generational leadership gives family businesses an added measure of resilience and foresight. We have good reasons -- often deeply personal -- for having the business survive and thrive beyond the founding generation.
Yet, at the same time, it creates enormous tensions on both sides if the second generation really has no interest in the business, or for whatever reasons, is not well-suited to run it. Any sense of abandonment, betrayal or disappointment takes on greater emotional weight within the family structure.
The mistakes made are in pressuring or guilting the next generational into feeling they owe it to the family legacy to assume the family business mantle. As well, it is just as much a mistake to think the business inevitably will fail without them.
There are many options for a business that lacks an obvious or willing family successor -- a shift to employee ownership, transitional outside management until a later generation is ready, reaching out to a second circle of family relationships, or simply selling it and re-purposing the family wealth to more shared pursuits.
The point, though, is to talk about it honestly, openly and early enough so neither side feels, well, stuck in a jar over it.