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Pathway to Success for Professionals Working in a Family Business

Kavil Ramachandran and Navneet Bhatnagar

Family businesses dominate the corporate landscape in most economies across the globe. If you happen to be working for a family managed business, steering through the challenges it poses may seem to be a herculean task. The key to thriving through this complexity is to first understand the value you bring to the business – your professional expertise and the systemic approach to business management. Understanding what the family business requires from you, helps you focus on the right deliverables. This keeps you stay at the top of your game!

Always keep in mind: ‘Why have you been hired?’

Business families do not have all the skills and knowledge required to manage a modern business. Hence, they seek those skills and expertise outside the family. This is where you come into the picture. They expect you to contribute to the organisation through your expert knowledge and skills, your process-based approach of managing business operations and an objective perspective on decision-making (yes they do value it!). You must ensure that you continue to deliver on those expectations.

Professionalism: An Attitude You Carry

Besides knowledge, skills and experience, your methodical conduct in business is what truly makes you a professional. What matters here is your ability to systematically make and execute strategic/ tactical or operational business decisions. Professionalism is an attitude that is reflected in all your demeanours and actions. You must exude confidence but do not permit it to turn into arrogance. You must always come across as a reliable, capable, and fair member of the team. These qualities are desired in any organisational setup but in family managed businesses these are valued even more as family firms are very sensitive to the culture fit when they hire an outsider.

Help the Organisation in its Professionalization Efforts

Most family businesses start small. As they grow larger in size, they need to setup systems and processes. The mid-sized businesses that have established the basic structures of professional management need to further update those with growing size and complexity in their environment. Hence, at every stage of organisational development family businesses struggle with the challenges of professionalization.
As a professional expert you can make the most valuable contribution to your organisation by helping it establish appropriate systems, processes, rules and procedures. These mechanisms help the business in effectively dealing with its growth challenges.

Keep Renewing Your Competence:

Finally, in today’s fast changing environment and rapidly growing knowledge and technology, capabilities that helped you so far may quickly lose their relevance. Therefore, you cannot rest on past laurels. You must keep acquiring new knowledge and skills to renew your competence. This capability enrichment can be done by taking up new and challenging work assignments. Going through focused classroom or online executive education programmes can work wonders for your continuous capability building effort. When you put this newly gained knowledge to use and contribute to your organisational setup, your value for the family business is enhanced further.

Hence, non-family professionals can continue to add substantial value to the family managed business through their competence, conduct, and attitude towards professionalism. When you continue to deliver persistently, the rewards will follow, leading to personal growth and fulfilment.

The authors are Professor & Executive Director and Senior Researcher, respectively, at the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business

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