The Elevator’s Out of Order-Please Use the Stairs

by Cindy Hanauer

Cindy HanauerIt’s often said, “Never put business before family.”  But in building long-term success for a family business, there are others who would say, “Never put family before business!” 

Like many in our industry, I came from a family business -but never felt anointed by it.  My first “florist job” as a child was sweeping up huge piles of gladiolus stems at the end of a long day, using a mini broom and a 6-inch wide dustpan.  Was I being punked?  Probably.   

But in retrospect, the experience of growing up as a “do whatever’s needed” family member has irreplaceable value.  The strategy of a future CEO requires understanding the pieces of the puzzle, the gaps in the process and how best to connect the dots.  The strategy is the easy part; the execution is hard.

So how does a family business fit in, while other companies are expanding, competitors are merging, and the retail channels are blurring?  How can a family business stay strong amidst the Goliaths of the industry?

Here are some of my thoughts, and I’d love to hear your comments at the end of the article:

Start Young                                       

In today’s world, work ethic is king.  It’s difficult to “teach” hard work to a teenager who has never been saddled with the pressures of a Valentine holiday.  The great thing about our business is that there are many jobs that a developing, young worker can do, which instill the long-term work ethic required to weather the complexities of a major holiday.   

Communicate equally with family members and non-family members

Inclusivity in the workplace builds a strong overall team.  Hold business discussions in an open forum, so that all employees feel as though they’re equal stakeholders.  Encourage family members to seek the ideas of non-family members and encourage family members to be open to the outside opinions of others.

“Equal” Ownership

You know ‘em…. those incredible employees who treat the business as if it were their own?  This is a great attribute to build in all employees whether or not they actually do have ownership in the business!  Build a sense of pride in all employees and include your star employees in an incentive program that will make them believe in the future of the business, and their own part within it!

Use the Stairs

There should be no express elevator to the top, even for family members.  Start early and take the right amount of time for a family member’s development.  Promotional opportunities should be given equally between family members and non-family members.  The best way to learn to walk is by falling down, which seldom happens in an elevator! 

Not Always a “Perfect Fit”

If Cinderella’s shoe was a perfect fit, then why’d it fall off when she ran?  The same is true in a family business.  A shoe that fits perfectly in the beginning, may not fit as the business progresses. Family members may share the same DNA, but not necessarily the same career goals.  Leave the swinging door wide open and make sure that family members who are IN the business are ALL IN.  Conversely, keep a watchful eye on non-family members who have the skill and devotion to fortify the business into future decades.

The beauty of our business is that it’s broad and wide.  There are conventional jobs within it, and unconventional jobs, as well.  As today’s floriculture business evolves in many unexpected ways, there becomes an even greater need for unconventional skillsets such as data integrity systems, marketing, e-commerce, supply chain, and even customer-facing retail.  It could well be that sending a family member outside of the business for a few years, may be the best thing that could ever happen to your business and its growth into the future!

Share Your Thoughts:

  • I’m curious…what is your best tip for developing a family member’s ability to take over the future of your family business?

  • A lot is written about the challenges of future family members maintaining the “strong business success of their forefathers”. Why do you think this happens?


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