A Parable About a Family Business – Pt. I

family-business

It all started out as an idea….

In the beginning there was a great business idea.  When the business started out it was small.  The owner was determined, diligent and talented.  The business grew.

After some time it was a much larger business and had many employees under its roof.    The owner’s children were now grown and some decided to work in the business.  The other children did not, choosing to find their own paths in life.

Soon there were issues, mainly disagreements over what to do with the profits.  The inactive owners wanted to be paid dividends… now!  The active owners saw the need to reinvest profits back into the business for future growth.

The founder was ready to retire.  But there was little savings or liquidity outside the business.  The founder wanted to be conservative and protect the cash flow for himself.  The sons and daughters working in the business wanted to be more aggressive and grow the business to remain competitive.

There was no way for the inactive owners to sell their ownership.  They wanted high dividends to make up for the lack of liquidity.

Without warning one of the owners died suddenly from a unforeseen medical condition.  The owner’s grieving spouse wanted to be bought out immediately.  The business had to borrow money from the bank to repurchase the outstanding shares.

The tensions of keeping the business afloat continued to increase and one of the owners kept bringing the stress home.  Soon there was a divorce.  This event caused a small financial emergency for the business.  Soon there was a demand for more money.  A loan was made to the divorced owner.

Another owner had a gambling problem.  But it was discovered and addressed too late; there were too many credit card bills.  A bankruptcy was filed.  More money was need.  Another loan was made.

The family members stopped taking to each other; there were too many hurt feelings and too much mistrust.

The inactive owners still wanted their dividends, now!  They didn’t understand the internal operations of the business.  No one had explained to them the need to leave the money in the business for it to be competitive in the market.

The founder had never decided who was going to take his place.  It was left up to a committee when he died.  The estate tax bill arrived in the mail.  There had been no planning.  There was no cash or lines of credit available.

There was an auction.  The assets were sold.  The business is gone.  The End.

This is a sad, sad story.  But unfortunately it happens… over and over again.  Does any of this story sound similar or familiar to events or conditions within your family business?  Please don’t let this happen to your family.  We have many tools and procedures to prevent this parable’s effect taking hold within your family business.

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Donald L. West, Jr., JD, CTLP,  serves as the Associate Director of Education to the Legacy Institute, is a Chartered Legacy & Trusts Planner, a Personne De Confiance, the Creator of the Legacy Pyramid and co-author of A Step-By-Step Guide To Crafting Personal Legacy Statements.

The Legacy Institute, (A.I.L.E.P.), is an organization devoted to empowering families and closely-held business entities cultivate multi-generational connectedness, growth and prosperity.