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Governance in family businesses: its critical role in nurturing success
21 September 2023 | Minutes to read: 3

Governance in family businesses: its critical role in nurturing success

By Chris Leahy

Family businesses are the engine-room of our economy, contributing significantly to job creation, innovation, and economic growth. With their strong values, long-term vision, and commitment to quality, these businesses often stand the test of time. Yet, beneath the surface of their apparent success, family businesses face many unique challenges, particularly when it comes to governance.

In this five-part series, we’ll explore the captivating world of family businesses, highlighting why governance is not merely a buzzword but an essential ingredient in their recipe for success. We’ll delve into the significance of governance structures and processes, showcasing how they help preserve the essence of family businesses while nurturing sustainable growth.

The family business advantage

Family businesses hold a distinct charm—a sense of unity, history, and purpose that is often absent in larger corporations. The founders’ entrepreneurial spirit, shared values, and close-knit relationships contribute to their appeal. However, this proximity can also create complexities that require adept management. This is where governance is key.

At its core, governance in family businesses is about achieving harmony between family values and business objectives. It’s about ensuring that the legacy built by one generation can be preserved, nurtured, and passed on to the next. Governance provides the framework for balancing familial bonds with the ever-evolving dynamics of entrepreneurship.

The pillars of governance

Effective governance in family businesses is akin to constructing a sturdy bridge between the family’s aspirations and the company’s goals. It’s built on several pillars, each crucial for maintaining equilibrium:

  1. Defining roles and responsibilities: One of the earliest and most vital steps in family business governance is clarifying the roles and responsibilities of family members within the business. By establishing clear boundaries, you minimise potential conflicts and ensure everyone understands their contribution to the company.
  2. Establishing decision-making processes: Governance structures create a roadmap for decision-making. They delineate how important choices are made, who has authority, and how conflicts are resolved. These processes are invaluable for ensuring that decisions align with the company’s strategic goals.
  3. Setting up a family council: A family council is a core component of family business governance. It provides a forum for family members to discuss matters related to the business, fostering open communication and a shared vision. A well-functioning family council is a cornerstone of successful governance.
  4. Creating robust policies: Governance involves creating policies that govern various aspects of the business, from employment and compensation to ownership and succession. These policies serve as a set of rules that everyone agrees to follow, ensuring fairness and transparency.

Conflict resolution and mediation

No business, family-owned or otherwise, is immune to conflicts. In family businesses, these disputes can be particularly sensitive, as they intertwine with personal relationships. Effective governance structures are designed to anticipate and address these conflicts proactively.

Family councils, for instance, provide a forum for discussing differences and finding common ground. Additionally, governance structures may involve the appointment of independent advisors or mediators who can offer unbiased guidance when disputes arise. These mechanisms help ensure that conflicts are managed in a way that preserves both family bonds and the business’s bottom line.

The generational shift

The transition from one generation to the next is a defining moment for a family business. It’s a pivotal juncture where governance plays a starring role in determining the company’s future. Successful succession planning is contingent on clear governance structures.

In many family businesses, the next generation brings fresh perspectives, skills, and ambitions. Governance facilitates the seamless transfer of leadership and decision-making from one generation to the next. It ensures that the transition is not merely about continuity but also about innovation, growth, and relevance in a changing marketplace.

To navigate this shift effectively, family businesses often rely on professional advisors, such as accountants, lawyers, and consultants, who specialise in succession planning. These advisors can help create a comprehensive plan that addresses leadership, ownership and management transitions, preserving both the family legacy and the company’s financial health.

Governance in family businesses is the silent orchestrator, ensuring that the harmony between family values and business goals remains intact. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires clear structures, open communication and a commitment to preserving the legacy while embracing change.

In the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, family businesses equipped with robust governance structures have a competitive edge. They’re better prepared to tackle challenges, capitalise on opportunities and chart a course for long-term success.

In the next instalment of this series, we’ll explore conflict resolution and mediation in greater depth, shedding light on how effective governance can turn disputes into opportunities for growth and learning.

Please read our other articles in the series:

Article 2: The family business advantage: nurturing legacy and success

Article 3: Building strong foundations: the pillars of governance in family businesses

Article 4: Bridging bonds: conflict resolution and mediation in family businesses

Article 5: Passing the torch: navigating the generational shift in family businesses

Governance in family businesses: its critical role in nurturing success

Chris Leahy

Chris is a Director in our Business Advisory Division with over 16 years experience within the accounting and finance industry working with business owners. Chris has a unique blend of commercial and professional experience seeing him lead the financial functions of privately owned international companies across five continents as CFO and Statutory Director.

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