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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

TFO for TQM

by Ira Bryck, director, UMass Amherst Family Business Center

In my many conversations with business owning families, several themes emerge. Vast numbers of businesses in Western New England are displaying their confidence in the next generation by empowering adult children in the business. Siblings are, in many cases, communicating clearly and lovingly, or if not, devising strategies to work on opposite sides of the office, town, or state. Many entrepreneurs are at a stage where, after much hard work with capable providers, they have crafted estate plans that ensure the continuation of the business and equitable treatment of family members. These are indications of thoughtfulness, fairness, and forward thinking. But if there is one phrase that erupts in almost every discussion, however, it is "too flat out." Unanimously, businesspeople report not having a moment to stop selling, producing, traveling, and meeting. If it's not flat out, it's "straight out," or as one person expressed it, "silly-busy." As an added benefit to this superpaced environment, more than one family reports, "we're just too busy to fight."

After years of talking Total Quality, what most people have to show for themselves, after downsizing and getting lean and mean, is...doing the work of three. It is not uncommon for people to (say they) work up to 100 hours per week (assuming a day of rest, that's 16.6 hours per day!). That hardly leaves time for a walk in the woods, a day at the beach, playing with children, not to mention eating and sleeping. A family meeting? Ha!!! ("We schedule them every Tuesday, but they are cancelled on account of business.")

I've mentioned the concept of Too Flat Out for Total Quality Management to many busy people in family business, and it always gets a chuckle of recognition. The irony is, prevailing family business wisdom is "Serve the Business, Not the Family." A business that serves the family is often a business dragged down by the family's most dysfunctional and impractical needs.

On the other hand, a family that serves the business to the point that it leaves no time for talking and relaxing together, creating a shared vision, communicating it's values to the next generation, dealing thoughtfully about succession planning, family relationships, needs of family members, fulfilling and funded retirement plans, is a family business that will eventually face a rebound effect of poor communication, unchallenged assumptions that split family ties, despair at the lack of planning upon the death of a founder, and Uncle Sam as your principle heir.

The UMass Amherst Family Business Center is your tool. Think of it as a very large outside board of advisors. It is a way to begin and continue the most important conversations your family business will have within your family and with others in surprisingly similar and relevant situations. The series of eight informative and interactive (they've even been described as "entertaining") events per year, plus our newly forming roundtable discussions, and the opportunity to attend a weekend retreat this Fall, will help you go from too flat out to well rounded. Remember that to have an "action plan," you first have to plan.

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