Family-owned businesses constitute a special category of company—made different by the familial influence that often pervades decision-making and operations. Consequently, directing within this environment can be challenging, especially for external directors.
The challenges associated with family influence can be mitigated somewhat if the family members know why they might want to recruit external directors, and the purpose of the family business is defined and agreed. Each director needs to understand the business of the business well if contributions are to be effective. This does not mean that directors need to be fonts of technical knowledge. Rather, they need to understand the business’ strategy, supply chain, business model, core competencies and operational mechanisms.
The question of what family members want from the business and the board, and especially from external directors needs to be answered. In some cases, the family simply wants added expertise and independent contributions in pursuit of agreed performance goals. However, it is more common for expectations to ‘creep’ beyond this because of the inherent complexities of the three overlapping frames of family business: family, business and ownership. As a consequence, external directors can find themselves snared in all manner of (often unstated) expectations beyond the boardroom.
Families considering adding one or more external directors need to become ‘board ready’. This is where sound rational discussion often meets emotional attachment and passion! As an accredited family business advisor I take significant time to understand the dynamics and prepare the family for this important step, which is often a massive leap of faith for many families. A good rule of thumb when writing director profiles is to think in terms of 40% IQ, 50% EQ and 10% SQ. Why? In addition to being technically competent, external directors need to be both aware of and sensitive to family and personal dynamics, and they need to understand the family legacy.
Influential family members may or may not own shares; may or may not be directors; and, they may or may not work in the business on a day-to-day basis. These variations often lead to quite different expectations. Managing the family’s expectations is critical because directors have a legal obligation to the business first and foremost. The board’s main priority is to deliver on agreed strategic priorities. However, family members often expect more from external directors including (but not limited to):
As a result, the family and potential directors should conduct due diligence, to understand and clarify expectations in order to minimise the chance of unpleasant surprises at a later point. On the flip-side, the addition of external directors can be incredibly rewarding. While there is no ‘silver bullet’, the appointment of external directors can lead to a dynamic boardroom and, ultimately, a highly valuable family-owned business.
About Lloyd Russell:
Lloyd is a fourth generation family business member and an accredited family business advisor. He is based in Brisbane while servicing clients throughout Australia and internationally. He is a specialist in family business strategy and governance with a particular focus on inter-generational transfer; has over 30 years’ experience in senior management; and, is an accredited neuroscience practitioner.
Contact Lloyd by phone +61 413 549 748 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and effective board practice; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.