Investing in the family business

29 September 2021

I wear a lot of hats at AAB, two of which are leading a team that supports our family business clients; and Corporate Finance partner, where I help clients to grow their businesses through investment, acquisition or refreshed strategic thinking. These two roles don’t come together as often as I’d like, as family businesses can often delay decisions that are more strategic than operational. Why this is the case is an interesting question, and it varies from business to business. It could be a reluctance to change, or a desire to remain what we would call ‘a lifestyle business’, or the family dynamics may make the conversation seem too difficult.

I could give you a number of examples of family business clients who have embraced change and impressively grown their enterprises, so my comments shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but what is for sure is that even the most secure of businesses will falter eventually if they don’t invest for the future, and those that truly succeed will undoubtedly have implemented more than just small tweaks.

The key in my view is to build a governance platform that allows creative thinking and encourages investment in the business. Investment could be in financial resource; in time; in capacity to innovate; or in people, to name a few.  That doesn’t necessarily mean filling the leadership team with right brain people, but being openminded to change and having a team with the ability to action the strategy once agreed upon is crucial. Often family businesses rely on family members to fill the leadership roles, but if it’s the wrong person in the seat then this is harder from the get go. For many, the pandemic has provided unexpected opportunity for generations to hand over the reins, and the next generation coming through is able to demonstrate a vision for the future, implementing strategies that will take the business forward.

In addition, more and more family businesses are recognising that investing in external executives reaps rewards. This can be getting both the correct board and management structures to run the business, today and for the future, and also putting the right mechanism in place to incentivise these individuals. High performing management teams often want ownership, or the opportunity to obtain equity in the future, and if this is not on the table in a family business then thought needs to be given as to how to offer a comparable package. There are various options available to do this, some of which are tax advantageous.

It’s well-documented that family businesses are less likely than non family enterprises to borrow money or take in third party equity to fund investment. The commonly held view is that family businesses are more risk averse and that the desire to protect the legacy can prevent a more proactive approach to funding growth. Third party equity takes this a step further than debt funding, with a perception that the owners lose autonomy and are answerable to other people who will have expectations of aggressive growth that could risk what has taken generations to build. The good news is that there are more and more funders, equity and debt, who understand family business dynamics and are now reflecting this in structure, ongoing relationships and exit strategies. Taking time to get to know potential funders can alleviate concerns and choosing the right partner for the business is key. The pros may well outweigh the cons.

Investment in innovation is another key attribute of many successful evolving family businesses. Whether it’s via new products, new production methods, automation or new ways to reach out to customers, keeping ahead of the new trends is crucial. Does the business have the right capabilities to allow it to innovate? Does it have the individuals to be able to do it?

Which brings us right back to people again. Investment, no matter what form it takes, is dependent on having a high performing team with one eye on the future.

For further information or assistance, please contact Lyn Calder or your usual Anderson Anderson & Brown contact. 

To learn more about the services we offer Family Businesses, click here.

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