Toby Bridges is CEO of The NBT Group, a successful family business which started in 1908 and continues to go from strength-to-strength. Here, he offers his advice on how to start and sustain a business with the family.
Like all businesses, running a family enterprise can come with its challenges but it can also be extremely rewarding for everyone involved. The real beauty of a family business by its very nature is that it will think long-term, but it is still a business and the hardest bit is to keep the balance between the emotion and the sense – your boss is no longer your father or aunt, they are your CEO and that relationship has to be respected and likely acted upon differently than in the family home.
1. Firstly, don’t just employ family because you can, employ them because they are ready. They’ll have likely grown up in its shadow, be genetically predisposed to it and be passionate about it but, as with all team members, they will still need support and training to be the best they can be.
2. Realise if you do take on a legacy that you will have to “answer” to family members you may never have met, who’ve died years before even. The emotion will tie you to it, it will absolutely drive you to succeed but it can also make you falter in making the hard decisions that you might have to make.
3. Really think about your leadership structure – at The NBT Group bringing in non-family staff at board level helped tremendously in structuring my original plans for growth, and whilst still wholeheartedly a family company, the executive officers give a dynamism to the business that family couldn’t by itself. It’s a challenging and difficult thing to adjust to but if you get it right, it’s incredibly worthwhile.
4. When your new baby boy or girl is being passed around the office for everyone to coo over, remember that all your team will be thinking ‘this little person will likely be my boss one day’. Your team also need to know they have every chance of making it to the top, if they choose, as they are critical to the company’s ongoing success.
5. You can change your emotional predisposition by attaching yourself to being the guardian of the family wealth rather than the guardian of a trading business. The simple switch, in thought, changed my entire business life.
6. Finally, the Christmas dinner table is for family. It’s not for the family business. Try to keep all business issues and talk inside of “work time” and enjoy being a son, a mother, an aunt or grandfather as you should at all other times.