Family businesses face more pressures than ever moving forward in today´s business environment. Their struggle for success requires more focus and a broader business perspective than ever before. For example, it seems like everything is shrinking but the size and the amount of the competition. Wal-Mart, Fed-ex, McDonalds, food marts in gas stations, and even the Internet have shrunk geographies. Distant competitors can ply their wares anywhere, with relative ease, including in your back yard. Customer expectations are that orders should be fulfilled fast – if not right now, then at least by tomorrow morning. Information, once held by a few experts is available to anyone, anytime on the Internet. Consumers can talk to your customers in chat rooms, or to your employees in special interest groups (SIGs), or dig deep into information provided by your competitors all from their computers. As with all of life, the imperative is adapt or die. The difficulty for most family businesses is that the pace of change is continuing to pick up, while there are no more resources available (people, available cash, technological expertise, etc.) than there ever were.
On the other side of the coin, in my twenty-five years of consulting experience, I´ve found the people involved to be passionate, resourceful and dedicated to what they do. The solution to building a business that´s fit enough to compete and win, however, isn´t to work harder. The answer is to work smarter, to be savvy, and to find ways to exploit more of the potential, laying unused in your organization. You need to out think, not just out work the competition. You need to become ever more sophisticated about what you´re trying to accomplish, not just the "what" but the "how" of creating success.
All of this can sound daunting, but it really isn´t. Good practices are almost always based on a foundation of enlightened common sense. "Common sense" in that resourceful people, acting to address changing conditions, often do the right things. "Enlightened common sense" refers to something more. Today, our instincts have to be enriched by continuous learning, choices must be considered and calculated based on rigorous thinking and solid preparation. This doesn´t refer to schooling, but to an openness to new information and alternative perspectives. Working only a portion of the formula limits the overall results.
We want to bring these ideas to life through the use of a story about a successful family business in the glass industry. Jan Brewer, of the Jack Ricks Glass Company, volunteered to tell her story and allow me to insert commentary to illustrate what it takes to be a successful family business in today´s environment. My comments appear in blue while the interview with Jan is presented in black print.