Addressing the questions about how I got started in consulting family businesses, I did notice that there was one subject that was a part of every story: family dynamics. Making the study of family dynamics should be a part of the bedrock of everyone’s practice, with a special nod to the work of Dr. Murray Bowen. I was so fortunate to have been steered in his direction early in my career.

Add To Your Formal Education By Tapping Into The Experience Of Others

I was trained in organization development, business behavior, and group dynamics. I didn’t set out to be knowledgeable about families in business, but it happened because of an innate curiosity about how all things work. Throughout my career when I didn’t know something, I would engage professionals to teach me. I have learned from attorneys, accountants, engineers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists—all worth every minute invested in listening and every penny spent for the time.

My First Family Business Client

My first client was three businesses, all interlocked by long relationships among the owners.

  • Business One: owned by a widow and her two sons, A and B. In that business was a non-related controller, C.
  • Business Two: owned by another widow with one son, D. In that business was an older gentleman, FR, who served as “family retainer,“ holding the business together.
  • Business Three: owned by A + B + C + D + FR.

D had a severe and permanent congenital problem. He was dumb as a rock. I know that sounds harsh, but it was a significant factor. He had roomed with B in prep school, then with A in college until he (D) flunked out. The stated task was to merge the three businesses into one.

Please Keep In Mind That I Was 31 Years Of Age And Just Starting My Private Practice

What did I know? To be sure, I was naïve. I approached the engagement with what I thought I knew. I structured the new entity. I defined responsibilities and accountabilities. But I came away confused. I had no idea what was going on in the relationships between and among the five men. I started asking others I knew who were in “the people business“, “how do I get to where I can understand the dynamics of this group?“ It was my friend, Dr. A. M. Powell, a child psychiatrist, who suggested, “You might want to look at the work of Dr. Murray Bowen at Georgetown . . .“

I Took That Advice. It Continues To Serve Me

I learned that I could craft an elegant business solution, but, the keys to implementation were always locked up in the psychology of the family. If I didn’t pay close attention to both structuring the elegant solution and the ongoing psychology of the family, then I could not get to implementation. If you are a consultant and you can’t implement change–you don’t get hired again. Introducing a psychological element into a business solution request is not always easy, but the more I studied Bowen, the more sense it made to me. His Family Theory is clean and straightforward. It helped me understand what I was seeing and hearing from family members in business, and it suggested ways to address difficult dynamics.

Simultaneously You Must Embrace How Things Look And How Things Feel

Many are the times when I have wished that all it took to solve a family business issue was an outline on paper. It has never been that simple. Do you know how some people can see blood and not faint or throw up? Well, family business consultants must have the ability to see tears but not relent, hear bold untruths and not sneer, and accept that timing plays a big role in the success of every venture. And yes, you must be able to “roll with the punches“ and also take a few punches. How long you do that will be up to you. That’s another lesson for another time.

I will be back with another blog about starting in this profession. I hope that sharing this will be useful; I’ve always been more about what lies ahead than about what just happened but I know from football that “watching the game film“ sets up many teachable moments. Happy to answer any questions you may have.

David Bork is an internationally acclaimed family business consultant, author, and speaker with five decades of experience, guiding over 500 family business enterprises. A pioneer in the industry, David brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the many challenges of running a successful family business and has assisted families in navigating their way through every imaginable family business issue. He is the author of The Little Red Book of Family Business and the online course, Re-Imagining Relationships for Families in Business. For more information about David Bork, visit FamilyBusinessMatters.Consulting.