Running a business is no simple task in and of itself, but add in a family member or two and you put yourself in a situation that can be both rewarding and frustrating. And, nowhere else is this dichotomy more evident than in the world of one of Hollywood’s most infamous family of “businessmen” – the Corleone’s. Whether you’re starting a new family business or stepping up as the next generation of leadership in an established company, there are some lessons to be learned from the words of some of the key characters in the Godfather trilogy.
“…and if I ever need any guidance, who’s a better consiglieri than my father?” -Michael Corleone
Even after they’ve retired, older generations of family business leaders can serve as valuable consultants. They have years of experience behind them and will be able to offer advice on many of the challenges the new generation of leaders encounter. This “been there, done that” experience is especially important immediately following a transition of power in order to maintain productivity and to reassure the company’s employees that the business is in good hands.
“I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!” -Fredo Corleone
Succession planning is imperative for any business, but may be particularly important for family businesses – especially when multiple family members are involved. Everyone has their own idea of what they are entitled to and who deserves to be in charge. Before any regime change takes place, there should be a well-thought out and agreed upon succession plan in place. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but if you start the process early and make it a point to be open and honest and build the succession plan together as a family, it will be easier to get buy in from everyone involved.
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” -Michael Corleone
Unfortunately, in a family-run company, it can never be “strictly business.” In a non-family company, your ties to your coworkers typically stay at the office. With family, however, it’s easy for arguments and business issues to follow you home or show up in non-work related gatherings, such as Thanksgiving and birthdays. And, when unpopular decisions are made, it can be construed as being even more personal because of the shared family bonds that don’t exist in non-family businesses. Actions carry more weight when family is involved so it’s important to pay special attention to how your decisions will affect everyone involved.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” -Michael Corleone
It can be hard for the younger generation to take the reins as the new leader of the family business, and it doesn’t usually happen overnight. If you’re the outgoing family member, don’t be surprised if you’re needed to step back into the business on a limited basis while the new generation of leaders learns the ropes. Running a company isn’t easy and there are likely to be a few missteps that require the skills of a more seasoned professional.
“We don’t discuss business at the table.” -Sonny Corleone
Remember, you’re family first, business partners second. It’s ok to take a break from talking shop and simply enjoy being with the ones you love. Setting boundaries for when and where business takes place is important and helps ensure the family bonds stay strong.
The Corleone’s “business” may not have been on the up and up, but their business struggles do shed some light on some of the positives and negatives of working with family. And while many family business owners will tell you it can be hard sometimes, they will also tell you that there isn’t anyone they’d rather be working with everyday.