I am enjoying my opportunities to share what I have learned over the course of my long career in helping families in business. I am both amazed and proud of the now-robust industry of family business consulting. When I began, such services did not even have a formal name. Two frequent questions to me are something like, “When did your purpose become clear to you?“ and “At what point did you know you were on the right path?“

The sentiments around those two questions always make me think of the age-old debate about whether love at first sight is real. While I do know people who have had those “Aha!“ moments, it was not like that for me. But I enjoyed the mission of learning the “hows“ and the “whys“ of family dynamics, especially when it involved a family in business together, and that curiosity was what led me to the work of Dr. Murray Bowen.

We All Start Somewhere

Please keep in mind that I was 31 years of age, just starting my private practice of advising businesses. What did I know? To be sure, I was naive. I approached my first engagement with what I thought I knew; I structured a new entity and defined responsibilities and accountability. But I came away confused. I had no idea what was going on in the relationships between and among the family players. Being curious and wanting to understand, I started asking individuals I knew who were in the people business, meaning psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers to name a few. I needed to know how I could get to a point where I understood the dynamics of a family group.

It was my friend, Dr. A.M. Powell, a child psychiatrist, who suggested, “You might want to take a look at the work of Dr. Murray Bowen at Georgetown…  That is precisely what I did, and I never looked back. Very quickly 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 did not pay attention to both the elegant solution and the psychology, then I didn’t implement. If you are a consultant and do not implement–you don’t get hired again.

You Will Know It When It Feels Right

It was not easy getting started. Frequently, I was admonished by PhDs in psychology.  They told me “You don’t have a PhD in psychology. You shouldn’t be using those ideas from Bowen.“ There were also the business-oriented individuals who said, “That stuff sounds pretty soft.“ (Of course, we know what they called “soft,“ is what is hard!) The more I delved into the Bowen Theory, the more sense it made to me. It was so clean and straight forward. The Theory helped me understand what I was seeing in families in business and suggested ways to address the dynamics in the family business. It was not long before people were coming to me, asking about this unique approach that enabled these businesses to survive the travails of the family itself. For those who questioned the efficacy of what I was doing I would reply, “An idea doesn’t care who has it. The idea itself has no opinion on the bearer thereof.“ If a plan or a method feels right to you and you see positive outcomes, follow that feeling. It could set you on your right path.

David Bork is an internationally acclaimed family business consultant, author, and speaker with five decades of experience, providing guidance to 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.