One of the keys to our century of success has been our recognition that healthy, fulfilling lives are based on three critical elements: family, career, and community. Max Grossman, our founder and great-grandfather, was an immigrant who, despite leaving school after the sixth grade to support his family, had three goals in life: to own his own business, educate his children, and give something back to the community. What he was looking for, and what each successive generation has sought, was balance. If you can achieve the balance that works for you, then all else will fall into place.
Looking back on our history (we were founded in 1910 as Massachusetts Envelope Company, and have evolved into Grossman Marketing Group, an integrated marketing services firm) as well as those of other successful family businesses, we have identified some best practices in family firm management that we want to share.
- To avoid family conflict, the alignment of owners’ interests is critical – the key question to ask is, “what is each person’s agenda?” One of the reasons that we work so well together as co-presidents is that our willingness to work hard toward a common goal are the same. There is no sibling rivalry – individual success is shared success.
- There is a critical need for mutually respectful family relationships; we need to be able to make easy transitions from the boardroom to the dinner table. Our grandfather and father used to tell us cautionary tales about business issues ripping apart a family. When issues arise between family members, the parties should take a patient pause and try to gain perspective. If this doesn’t work, bringing in a third-party resource tends to work well. Luckily, we have never had to take these steps, but we know other family business operators who have done this successfully.
- Despite a closely-held structure, fostering an environment where different viewpoints are welcome is crucial to innovation and creativity. We want people, regardless of whether they are a member of the family, to be willing to speak their mind and share their ideas, even if they disagree with us.
- You must communicate to non-family employees their significance to the organization. We believe that our non-family colleagues are at the core of our ability to maintain our competitive advantage in an increasingly complex business environment. That is why we have consistently invested in their health and well-being by offering a unique package of benefits including paid family leave for all employees, flexible work hours and interest-free loans for first-time home buyers, which are forgiven once the employee remains with the firm for at least five subsequent years. For these policies, we have been recognized over the past several years by such national publications as the New York Times and Time Magazine.
- Never, ever, ever take anything for granted. The willingness to adapt to ever-changing business environments and conditions and the ability to resist the urge to become complacent after years of success is critical. Regardless of how successful you are or your family has been over the years, you need to recognize that markets can change, and that you must always remain responsive to customer needs.