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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 1 year ago

How to... Bring your children into the family business

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Although it is often a sensitive process, bringing children into the family business doesn't have to be contentious.
by: Randi Donahue Contributing Writer

Although it is often a sensitive process, bringing children into the family business doesn't have to be contentious.

Michael Brown, president of Ben Brown Insurance Inc., has worked with sons Ryan and Evan for 13 years. Remaining open to and invested in his sons' ideas through the years has allowed the elder Brown to build confidence in what they bring to the table.

“It's like slowly passing the torch,” says Brown. “You just watch what they do and say, 'Wow, this is really working,' and then you give them more and more.”

That willingness to relinquish control as an owner and parent is a key component in navigating how to smoothly bring children into the family business, says Denise Federer, founder and principal of Tampa-based Federer Performance Management Group LLC. “At the end of the day, if the founding person isn't open to give up that power, it's not going to work,” says Federer, who has helped family businesses with succession planning for 27 years.

Brown did more than just release control. He checked his ego at the door, for one, and encouraged his sons to take the business beyond what he and his father created.

“I told them, 'You can't just follow in my footsteps' — like I didn't just follow in my father's,” says Brown. “You can learn from [me], but then you have to do things better.”

Brown also strongly attributes a solid family relationship as essential to creating a business relationship with children. “We liked and respected each other,” he says.

Another important element: Brown includes his sons in all aspects of business, including hiring new producers, setting goals and motivating team members. The company's perpetuation plan is in place, and even though he has no date in mind for retirement, Brown is comfortable walking away today. “I set a good example, worked hard, and gave them every opportunity and course of learning they could to excel,” says Brown.

-Randi Donahue

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