Mothers and fathers have a hard time when it comes to managing both the business and the family. Sometimes, decisions must be made that help the business, but may affect individual family members.
I just completed an engagement where the family tried to avoid making one of those decisions. The eldest of three of the boys in the business wasn't happy. He had forgotten how much sacrifice the family had made so that all three boys could make a living off of the operation. Even though everyone was making a comfortable living, he didn't think the business was growing fast enough. He gave notice to the family partnership that he was leaving to pursue another business.
But the new business he was going to operate was short on cash. So, the eldest son decided he would manage the new business and continue to help out in his family business until things got better. His parents should have drawn the line and stopped this dual role. However, they still needed some help, and they wanted to "keep peace in the family."
Working two jobs didn't work out well. Resentment built up between two of the sons. One evening, when the "second" son was trying to help take up some slack left by the departure, Son No. 1 came home and became angry with the intrusion on his territory. They almost became physically involved before the father was able to separate them. There had always been problems between the two boys, but I could tell this was the final conflict for Son No. 2.
I was called in to finalize the partnership dissolution.
Two days later, I got a panicked phone call from one of the family members. The eldest son decided he wasn't going to leave. And, the parents decided to let him return to the partnership without consulting the other family members. Mom and Dad, even after receiving a warning from the second son, decided it was best for all three members to remain in the business.
Shortly thereafter, the second son did leave – and you guessed it – a few weeks later Son No. 1 decided to take another position. So now, the parents have their business built for three, but only have one son left to run it. Not only have they helped destroy a business, but relationships will never be the same for the family.
The parents made the mistake of not treating family members as true business partners. All of the partners should have been consulted before allowing the eldest son to return. Instead of realizing there were serious problems in the business, the parents tried to force the children to get along.
You can't force business partners, or family members, to remain in business together. Conflicts arise in all business operations. The best solution to preserving both the family and the business is often to let the business members solve their own problems.
Darrel L. Dunteman, AAC, is an accredited agricultural consultant and accountant with offices in Bushnell, Ill. He also edits Ag Executive, a monthly ag financial newsletter.