Close this search box.
Close this search box.

4 Tips for Successfully Leading a Family-Owned Business

The role of CEO is one of the most demanding career opportunities anyone can face. Being a family-business CEO comes with an even greater set of challenges and opportunities that require a tricky balancing act.

The CEO is not only responsible for running a profitable business, but required to be comfortable and skilled with family dynamics in the workplace. Working with family members—especially if you’re not one—creates a unique set of circumstances stemming from both the emotions of the family and the needs of the business.

To lead a successful, multi-generational family business, a CEO must do the following 4 things.

  1. Establish clear expectations. The conflict that originates in many family businesses often comes from family members having unclear or differing expectations about their roles and responsibilities. The most effective family-business CEOs ensure that family members, both inside and outside the business, understand their roles and responsibilities to the company, to each other, and to the larger family group.
“85% of family-business CEOs say that establishing an independent board was the most important business decision they ever made.”
  1. Engage the family. There’s a clear tendency or trend to separate and protect the business from the family. For example, family members typically aren’t invited to collaborate with other business executives to develop a vision for the company. The emotions of the family and fear of conflict cause many families to avoid the important conversations necessary to keep ownership unified. Successful family-business CEOs understand the need for regular meetings with the larger family, separate and apart from business meetings. These meetings serve as a communication channel to share information about the company and its performance, and set expectations in key areas such as dividends, reinvestment, growth, and liquidity. Another benefit of special family meetings is to build relationships and unity among family members and to strengthen family values.
  1. Formalize your governance process. Eighty-five percent of family-business CEOs say that establishing an independent board was the most important business decision they ever made. Having a board of directors provides a sounding board for the CEO about important strategic and operational issues, as well as an objective group of business professionals to give feedback on the performance and advancement of family members.
  1. Don’t overly emulate your parents. Many successor CEOs who took over from their parents get caught in the trap of trying to lead like their parents. The world around them encourages this, by constantly comparing them to their parents. Effective successor CEOs respect what their parents have done, but establish their own vision for what the company needs moving forward.

Bill Wrigley, of the Wrigley gum conglomerate, encapsulates this idea when he says “Respect the past, but always do what’s right for the future.”
Leading a family business has two areas of focus. It involves managing the business strategy and operations while attending to the emotions and dynamics of the family. A successful family business CEO will realize this and will work to establish a vision for the future, engage the family, formalize family governance and business governance, and set clear expectations for both the employees and the family.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.