Harvard Business Review handbook a must-read for family businesses (Biz & Books review)

They say not to take work home with you. Leave it at the office, they say. Lock the door and forget about work, seize the down-time, relax.

Leave work at work, they say, but how can you? Your eldest child is the CFO, her brother is the sales manager, two close cousins run the ad budget, you’re grooming the next generation, and you need “Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook” by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer.

While it’s a fact that America was built on Mom-and-Pop enterprises, it’s also true that few things come together as easily as they did then — especially family businesses. So how do you ensure that your family biz is strong enough to withstand today’s world?

There are, say Baron and Lachenauer, three things that successful family businesses have in common: they’re led by “lifelong learners” that work hard and are adaptable. To know where your business sits on that plane, “decode” it by closely examining the relationships in it and by understanding the seven individual roles that any involved family member might play.

Next, look hard at the “power of ownership,” a step that takes into account the person who holds the reins but that also focuses on a “hidden pyramid” and “the power to destroy,” purposefully or inadvertently. One reminder on this step: only a small fraction of businesses survive to be nurtured by a third generation.

Know your rights as a family business owner by understanding how the business is owned. Decide which kind of business you want for the future. Be flexible and willing to step back, aside, or tear the business structure apart and rebuild. Break assignments and titles down to “rooms” for better governance.

Decide, as a family, who will be allowed to share information about the company, and what its overall value will be. And finally, have a transition plan in place. Doing so is best for the future of the business and the family.

Sibling squabbles are heightened. Minor problems seem enhanced. The pandemic underscored every tiny thing that bruised your family business, but “Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook” can help put you on the right track. That is, if you can follow along with it.

Indeed, though it’s very thorough, and though it can surely help ascertain various personalities and strengths readers must deal with in their workplaces, and although authors Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer pack their book with information that pokes into the corners of every family business imaginable, that info may lead to a big case of overload.

Like the aftermath of that vacation you’re dying to have, there’s a lot to unpack here and it probably should be undertaken as a family project; in fact, the authors’ best advice may be early in this book. Get a lawyer.

Make sure everything is hammered out right and legal for everybody in your business. In the meantime, do what’s needed: find multiple copies of “Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook” and make sure you all take it home with you.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the reviewer behind “The Bookworm Sez,” Reach her at 


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