How to make family firm work for all

Ties are good but can be tricky in business.

Anthony (left), Louella, Adrian, Alan, Kylie and Caleb Wright of Drury Tires. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Anthony (left), Louella, Adrian, Alan, Kylie and Caleb Wright of Drury Tires. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Small to medium businesses are the lifeblood of New Zealand industry. Various sources cite family businesses as representing 75 per cent of Kiwi firms, providing up to 80 per cent of employment and 65 per cent of national GDP.

However, when these unique arrangements between parents, siblings and in-laws go bad, the fallout can be devastating, not only for the business.

Drury Tires in South Auckland use the tagline "a family business" to reinforce the old-fashioned values of trust, loyalty and integrity within a highly competitive market.

Co-manager Anthony Wright believes the foundation his parents, Adrian and Louella, put into place when they set up the business 35 years ago was vital. A strong focus on customer service was also important. "They treated their customers well and soon earned a reputation for being good and honest. This became the foundation for the successful business we have today."

Family is key in making this business succeed, as Anthony also works alongside his brother, Alan, and his wife, Kylie. Recent team members have also included Nicky (Anthony's wife), Karryn, his sister, son Caleb, daughters Antoinette and Samara and nephews Logan, Vincent and Gabriel.

Anthony believes some of the key things to ensure a successful family business includes:

Being tolerant and patient with each other - we all have blind spots in our personalities and the way we do things.

Honouring and respecting each other - especially when you want to let off some steam.

Being quick to forgive one another when someone does something wrong.

Working in unity and in line with your personal strengths.

Being honest and transparent with each other.

Remembering the big picture - You are all in this together.

However, no matter how much you try to get on with your parents and siblings, conflict stemming from fights in a treehouse 40 years ago is sure to rise. In these situations Anthony believes "you need to firstly pick which battle you want to win. You don't need to come out on top in every argument."

There are many positives working with other family members. Growing up in the industry, siblings should have a good understanding of the market and know the business inside out. The level of trust is generally higher, too, as you are all working for the "common good". As well as this, working together with people you love, rather than strangers, can be a major benefit for many.

However, rampant nepotism and elevating incompetent family members to positions of authority will quickly undermine your regular "non-genetic"-based staff. This could quickly turn into a major issue if your son alienates previously loyal and highly skilled team members, sending them fleeing to the competition.

Another key aspect to think about is succession planning. Just because the oldest of your children has the most experience in the business, are they the best leader, do they understand your organisation's key financial drivers and are they customer focused? Frank, open and supportive discussion will have to take place earlier rather than later so your retirement does not destroy the business within 12 months.

As with all things, the success of your family business is determined by your ability to be honest, transparent and have respect for each other. Also being a "glass half full" person is vital. As Anthony says, "a bad attitude is like a flat tyre, you're not going anywhere until you change it."

Tom O'Neil is international author of Selling Yourself to Employers, award-winning speaker and boss of cv.co.nz and outplacement.co.nz. You can contact him at tom@cv.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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