In my 20’s, “When are you going to get a “real” job?” seemed to be the only question that mattered in my career. I was working full time for my mom at her home-based market research firm and, seemingly, that couldn’t be my end goal. I must have something else more tangible in store for my very bright future, people mused – something my own, different, “real.” But I was confused. I mean, it felt real: I made real money, I managed real clients, I worked real hours in real business professional clothes, called real subcontractors, followed up on real projects. And yet, because of those kind of assumptions, I believed there must be something more legitimate outside of her company. I couldn’t ride her coattails forever. At some point I’d have to go out and make a name for myself. Didn’t I want to leave my mark on the world? What was my true passion? All. The. Cliches.
It doesn’t matter that ultimately there was another career path in store for me. The assumptions we make about small businesses are still damaging for our own business partnerships. We miss out if we write off the success, efficacy and quality of family owned and operated companies. Nepotism has painted a negative connotation onto the very things that make family businesses so crucial and beneficial to our economy. We see favoritism, poorly qualified staff, a lack of processes – when instead we should be seeing integrity, low turnover, expertise and endurance. When we look closely at family businesses, we see that in many ways they outshine their competitors in these areas.
The world’s economy IS family owned and operated. The Harvard Business Review estimates that 80% of the world’s companies are run by 2 or more family members. In America, 1 in 5 small businesses are owned/operated by multiple family members (Birnbaum) and 30% of companies with $1 billion + in sales are family businesses, including Walmart and Samsung (Kachaner, Stalk and Bloch). It’s absurd, then, that we still believe family companies are “rinky-dink” operations, run by a talentless and uninspired second generation. The very opposite is proving to be true in most studies.
Family run companies are successful because we literally bring you home with us. The dinner table sings with updates about clients. The values and vision shared with you at the conference table are the same values and vision we laugh and aspire to as we pass the mashed potatoes. The Christmas presents are newly branded wearables, the bonuses are shared and set aside for whoever needs it the most at the moment. Your project becomes a guest with its own room, a fresh set of sheets and towel at the foot of the bed. There’s nothing more personal or more cared for than your satisfaction, because that is the currency of our family’s livelihood. As Jeffrey Miller points out in an article by The New York Times, small businesses “have the strength of the entire family, meaning all sorts of thinking and fiscal resources.” Associate professor, Patricia M. Cole, says, “a family business can become like a turtle that pulls inward under its shell” and we’ll pull you in with us. Family business is statistically more resilient in hard economic times in this way, too. The family enterprise is the beginning and the end of the plan – that’s all the motivation that’s needed.
We need to throw away the idea that the family-run business is lacking in some undefined way. It’s time to come home and meet my mother. As the matriarch of the family business, Lori Mader is not just a character or a “bird” as she calls herself. She sets the core values – and her intelligence and business acumen drive the success of the services. Her oft-joked about personality is the hallmark of her relationship with clients and the extremely loyal and long-term employees and subcontractors that are happy to be part of the family. She’s not traditional, but what she has created as an extension of herself through the company is what makes FieldGoals.Us special and different. Harvard Business Review calls this “family gravity” and they explain it like this:
“The firms we studied usually have one key family member (but up to three) standing at the center of the organization, like the sun in our solar system. These people personify the corporate identity and align differing interests around clearly defined values and a common vision. They focus on the next generation, not the next quarter. They tend to embrace strategies that put customers and employees first and emphasize social responsibility. And they have strong personalities that draw talented people into their orbits and keep them there.”
That magnetic pull is real. The relationship we all have with the company is real and our ability to outperform most market competitors is real too. It doesn’t get more real than the legacy Lori has created and continues to solidify for our family through her company. That’s what family owned and operated “really” means. Welcome home!
Author credits go to Emilie O’Neal – educator, mom, daughter
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