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Bringing the family business community together

Three Lessons For Any CEO

13th April 2017 Jeff Darwin, Stratford Managers Corporation

When family-owned enterprises make it past the second generation (and too few do), there are a few common “lessons in success” that any CEO can draw upon for inspiration in sustaining their own business legacy.

The Power of Storytelling in Family-Owned Enterprises

The first (and least obvious) of these “lessons” relates to the onboarding of new employees. We all appreciate the value of new staff members understanding “how things get done around here” for employee productivity, inclusion and retention purposes.  

However, it’s the way that corporate culture and the company history is explained that often sets family-owned enterprises apart. In a family-owned enterprise, informal “story telling” is integral to new employee socialization. A family business that shares its humorous (and tragic) family stories, personal relationships and oral history with new staff members encourages ongoing entrepreneurship and creativity across the business. It’s a powerful alternative to simply reading the company history on the website as part of an employee orientation checklist!

Employee Commitment and Engagement

Another lesson that any mid-size business can borrow from the successful family-owned enterprise playbook, is the renewal of individual commitment to grow and sustain the business as the founder intended, with each succeeding generation.

This might sound like a lofty goal in a conventional corporate setting, however it could be as simple as having all company employees participate in a periodic reset or endorsement of the company mission, vision and shared values statements – instead of an impersonal annual sign-off on the new five-year plan! This enables employees to connect their efforts to the company mission, which is the foundation of true employee engagement.

Values-Based Decision-Making

The final learning that any business should borrow from their family-owned peers, is the use of values-based decision making. Summed up with a simple question, “what would Dad and Uncle Jack have done?”. It’s probably also the easiest “lesson” to implement elsewhere.

For example, the Board of Directors of McDonalds – the largest restaurant chain in the world – is still known to occasionally ask themselves “what would Ray (Kroc) do?” in deference to the values of their famous founder who died in 1984.

Three simple lessons to be learned from successful family-owned businesses:

1 - Employee onboarding through story-telling

2 - Periodic renewal of individual commitment, and

3 - Values-based decision-making

About the Author - Jeff Darwin is the VP, BUSINESS OPTIMIZATION at Stratford Managers in Ottawa, Canada.  Jeff is a third generation Ottawa resident with a lifetime of business optimization and professional services experience. He has a passion for assisting progressive, local owners to prepare their businesses for timely growth or for transition. His expert advisory services supports company owners and CEOs with the overall direction of their businesses. Jeff continuously focuses on prudent financial management - particularly when employing “leverage” (other people’s money)! He can be contacted on  To find out more about the work they do please visit their website here


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