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2022 Conference: What I'm taking away

Posted on Tuesday, December 6th, 2022

Whew!!! We just wrapped up our Second Annual Iowa Family Business Conference, so it's time to write the Second Annual “What I learned” takeaway post.

We are so grateful to all of our attendees and speakers who made our Conference such a rewarding experience.

One thing I love about our conference and programs, in general, is the mix of viewpoints, perspectives, and generations we have involved. That diversity of thoughts and lenses of view is so helpful in moving families forward.

One of those perspectives was shared by our keynote, former President and CEO of the McIlhenny Company, Tony Simmons. When asked about how a business survives to the 5th, 6th, and 7th generations of ownership, he had such a simple yet powerful thought on that. You have to take care of the business, first and foremost. That has to drive the vision of the family, all family.

The family has to gather around the mantra that “what is good for the business, is good for the family.” “Stewardship” must replace “ownership” the as the lens to view the business. When you think about it that way and consider yourself a caretaker of something for your family 25 and 50 years beyond yourself, it absolutely changes how you lead your company.

One of our panels was dedicated to succession planning and ways in which families have moved their businesses from gen to gen. A business moving from the founder to the second generation often has the issue of “which sibling gets to lead.” In our society that has often meant the oldest takes that chair. It can lead to issues, especially when a family hasn’t learned lesson one here.

An interesting method highlighted to our audience was establishing a more meritorious environment where family members understand and, most importantly, accept their role on the bus. It's obviously so much easier to say this than to actually put it in motion. Getting siblings or cousins to come together, agree upon a leader, a process for decision making and stay in their lanes is far easier said than done.

A few ideas to move that type of environment along – from this owner’s perspective - start with open communication, governance, outside facilitation, some personality assessment and career development work, and a healthy dose of trust.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more of my takeaways from the conference and highlighting some of the other things I have learned and experienced in working with Iowa family businesses.

Dan Beenekn
Director, UNI Family Business Center