Strategic planning for family businesses

Most family-owned businesses struggle to survive beyond a single generation. Strategic planning can help extend their lifespan.

John L. Ward, Ph.D., clinical professor of Family Enterprises at Kellogg School of Management and co-founder of The Family Business Consulting Group, outlines four questions he suggests family-owned businesses consider as they embark on — or reinvent —their strategic plan:

1. Is the family committed to perpetuating the business? For example, why not sell the company? What benefits does the family see in keeping the business?

2. How does the family see itself and the company in the years ahead? Are there family members that will be active in the firm, or will they be passive owners? Does the family see the business creating spin-off ventures for family members?

3. How will the family build or maintain strong relationships, resolve conflicts and work for harmony? How will the family and the business resolve questions of family compensation?

4. What are the specific steps required to accomplish the family's personal and professional goals each year? Is this the year to discuss and establish rules, such as expecting family members to gain outside work experience first? Will the family begin regular "family fun" activities, such as group vacations?

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