Star's Corner

Star’s Corner: How to Succeed in a Family-Owned Business


Family businesses are the heart and soul of a community. They help make our neighborhoods feel like home. That’s why I love living in New York. Every corner is filled with Mom-and-Pop stores and generations of families building their legacies on city streets.

According to the US Census Bureau, about 90% of American businesses are family-owned or controlled. Family businesses in America span as far back as the 17th century. Some of the most innovative family-run companies are still operated by members of the families that founded them.

Here’s a perfect example—the oldest family business in America, Zildjian Cymbal Co., was founded in 1623 in Turkey and relocated to Norwood, MA in 1929. The Zildjian legacy was passed down 15 generations and is still kickin’ in the beat as one of the most recognized percussion brands in the music industry. On a greater scale, some of the world’s largest businesses like Wal-Mart and BMW are also family-owned ventures.

There are many advantages of running a family business such as flexibility, common values and getting to spend time with the people you care about. With rewards come challenges for members in the family and external employees. For families, the biggest challenge may be combining the rational world of business with the emotional world of family. Non-family member workers may be apprehensive to work in a family-owned company because of concerns such as moving up in the company or finding their place as an “outsider.”

These tips can help you succeed in a family-business environment:

Family Members

  • Establish Boundaries – In a family business, the lines can become blurry. Unrelated family matters and emotional conflicts should stay out of the office. Keep work at work so you can go home to unwind from the day.
  • Know Your Role – Clearly define everyone’s role and how each person fits within the company hierarchy. Create an organized system so that the process of hiring outside of the family runs smoothly.
  • Promote Fairly – Reward all team members based on performance and achievements, not family relationships. Non-family staff should be entitled to the same opportunities for advancement in the company as family members.
  • Be Honest – Family members may find it difficult to make tough business decisions or share their feedback if it negatively impacts another family member. Be direct, constructive and stay mindful of your business goals.

Non-Family Members

  • Avoid Taking Sides – Family battles in the office can sometimes elevate to resemble an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Stay neutral and refrain from getting involved in family quarrels.
  • Keep it Professional – A family-run company may have a more relaxed environment, but make sure you don’t get so comfortable that it distracts you or others from the task at hand. Always bring your A-game and present yourself in a professional, respectable manner.
  • Do What Makes Sense – Examine your professional goals and your work environment. If you’re looking for a major advancement in your career, and your company rarely promotes non-family members, it might be time to reconsider your options.

Do you own or work for a family-owned business? What have been your greatest benefits and challenges? Share your comments below.


Megan Bozzuto

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