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Edition 130 – The Slow Burn

It’s interesting the various family businesses that I work with. The industries may be different. The family dynamics may be different. The financial side of things can fluctuate wildly amongst different businesses. However, often the problems are the same across all of them, be they a blue collar trades based business or a professional services firm.

A great family business that I’ve had the good fortune to work with for more than two decades is an interesting observation in what I call, “the slow burn”.

This is a business that specialises in providing equipment and other supplies to a particular industry. This business is unique in that sometimes in this business, the key salesman has to work with clients for up to 15 years to get a sale over the line. This is not because he is a poor salesman – but more a reflection of the industry the business operates within, the value of the equipment they sell and the length of time an investment decision can take.

At times, this family business, which involves Dad (the modern day mentor and Chairman) and Son (the Managing Director) can appear to be slow to make decisions. On the face of it, you’d put that down to procrastination. However, if you had to spend 15 years knocking on the same door before a potential customer became an actual customer, you too may adopt a similar business philosophy towards making decisions.

Here’s what I’ve observed in this family business that works for them:

  1. They takes their time when recruiting someone – to be certain they are the right fit not only for the business, but also for the clients they are looking to sow relationships with.
  2. They take their time binning someone – to ensure they don’t leave themselves completely exposed in a particular area of their business, or under-resourced.
  3. If a difficult email has to be sent to a supplier, a customer or an employee, often the Managing Director drafts it, then sits on it – to let it percolate and determine if what has been written are the right words at the right time.
  4. New people are placed strategically in the organisation so they learn about the business – before they eventually move into the role in the business the managing director originally envisaged for them.
  5. Money is invested, even if it is expensed. By this, I mean decisions to spend money are considered and thought through, not rushed into and regretted later on.
  6. Big ticket decisions, like new premises, have been, at times, years in the making, to ensure that when the move is made, it is made once and for an extended period of time.

My personal preference is to move faster when making decisions in business. However, I also appreciate that the pace at which decisions are made are often the reflection of the personality of the owners of the business as much as the personality of the industry in which you operate.

I also believe in the adage that what works for some may not work for others. In this family business, they’ve determined, over 40 years, what works best for their family business and their family and, as a result have created their own culture around decision making that suits them extremely well. Nevertheless, the beauty of the work I do with my family business clients gives me a wonderful window into so many success stories.

This Week’s Tip

“Stop and think – what is your process and culture around decision making? Is there consistency in how decisions are made, no matter the area of the business it relates to?”