Family Business

The various professional disciplines supporting family enterprises


4 min




Listen to Dr. Ivan Lansberg, who teaches family business at the Kellogg School of Management, share his view of the need for multidisciplinary teams of professional advisors to collaborate together for the benefit of business families. In a family business, different entities including the business itself, the family and the owners, require a unique set of professionals to help guide them.





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The field of family enterprise has really kind of come of age now, and it is an amalgamation of professionals and academic disciplines. Going back to the three circle model: the family, the ownership part, and the business itself; each one of those circles provides an avenue into the issues that are typically the preview of different professions, management consultants, and professionals that advise businesses coming through the business circle that is their window into the family enterprise. Whereas lawyers for instance, and often accountants as well, are coming through the ownership circle, and then of course there are all the people who advise families, therapists and so forth that come in through that circle.

There is an old saying that every profession is a conspiracy because each profession brings with it its own nomenclature, its own set of values and norms, and some of that is ... View More designed to obviously, you know, to create a professional identity but also they are designed to keep people out of the profession. When you are dealing with family enterprise you are really dealing with having to overcome the barriers that each profession has created to keep people out and develop new ideas, new practices, new knowledge indeed, that addresses the interdependence of the family, the enterprise, and the ownership.

It is practically impossible for any given professional to develop the breadth of knowledge needed to attend to the issues in each circle with the depth of the original circle from which they are trained. To pretend that a management consultant would be equally versed on the legal issues that have to do with inheritance, or to have a lawyer think about strategy is asking a lot of them. And there is the “halo effect,” so when you are very good at something, people tend to assume that you are also very good at something else. It is incredibly seductive for a profession to, you know people like you they think you are smart, they think you add value, and before you know it you came in to help them with strategy and you are now talking about their marriages and how they parent their kids. So what happens to many professionals is that they end up boxing themselves in because they overstretch the bounds of their actual expertise.

They need to develop the interpersonal and team skills necessary to be able to work with others who do not come from your same background. Who are going to be raising questions that you need to be attentive to that may be outside of your comfort zone. And then be able to then create the kind of camaraderie that you need to be able to come up with solutions and suggestions and help and service, that is actually valuable to the families, because if you do not do that at the level of the professionals then you are leaving the families to do the integrating on their own.