Best Practices In Family Business

Elaine King

Impressive businesses like Walmart, Comcast, Bimbo, Tous, and others are all family owned. How have they become internationally recognized brands worth billions of dollars? Behind every business is the story of the people who created it - in this case, a family. 

Perhaps these family businesses were lucky, had great timing, or had the perfect product idea for the market. However, they also put excellent business practices to work. Here are 3 examples of best practices in family business as put into practice by some of the most successful businesses in the world:

The Team and Keeping the Family Together: Walmart

Walmart was started by Sam Walton. The family continues to control a majority of the company’s stock. Back when the company started, Sam’s wife, Helen, played an important role as an adviser to her husband. Her contributions were essential to the success of the company and the family’s continued involvement.

In particular, Helen suggested the profit-sharing model that the company used for many years. This model helped workers feel like they were on the company’s team. The model was eliminated in 2010 when the company moved toward a 401(k) match scheme. 

Helen also ran the Walton Family Foundation, an organization that is still operating. This foundation is essential for keeping the family together and working toward common goals. Today, the family company, Walmart, includes thousands of employees across the globe, so the family needs an organized, separate place to plan their impact on the community.

Succession: Comcast

If you’re looking for a beautiful succession story, look no further than Comcast, a company founded by Ralph Roberts in 1963 in Mississippi. His son, Brian Roberts, took over the company in 1990, when he was just 31 years old. 

Brian Roberts grew up in his father’s company. As a child, he attended meetings and asked questions. However, when he began working at the company, he started out as a line installer. At the time, his father would have preferred that he had gotten experience elsewhere. But, the younger Roberts convinced his father that he wanted to spend as much time with him as he could. Soon, Brian Roberts worked his way up through the company until he became president. 

Until Ralph Roberts’ death in 2015, the two men talked about business and maintained a close relationship. Ralph Roberts knew how to stay out of his son’s way, while the other one knew when to seek his father’s advice. For many family businesses, succession is fraught and difficult. However, with professional assistance and guidance, every family can make it work and reap the benefits, just as Comcast has.

Balance and the Future: Cargill 

The Cargill MacMillan family owns one of the US’s largest privately owned companies, Cargill Inc. The agribusiness giant is known for selling a number of products and services, and has grown over many generations. The original company was begun by a Scottish immigrant, W. W. Cargill, in 1865. 

Today, the family has had to reach many agreements to keep things running smoothly. One interesting data point is that the family reserves 80% of the company’s net income for future investment in the company. This is an important lesson to other family businesses that a plan for the future should leave space for growth, reinvestment, and managing unforeseen circumstances. 

In these outstanding examples of family business, you can see that a lot of persistence, planning, and organization is necessary for success. Good systems, strategies, and family unity are all themes in these examples of excellence in family business.

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Elaine King - Family and Money Matters™ 2021