Established in 1995 by third-generation auto magnate Shep Lee of Lee Auto Malls, the Institute for Family-Owned Business has been providing resources and support to enhance the chances a Maine family-owned business will survive to the next generation. Nationally, less than a third of family-owned businesses survive to the second generation.
Executive Director Gina Weathersby, on board since July, hopes expanded outreach and other programs beyond the institute's annual conferences and seminars will appeal to both members and nonmembers. To research more about the issues facing family businesses in Maine, the institute is partnering with the governor's office to establish two annual family business forums.
Mainebiz spoke with Weathersby about family-run companies in Maine and her plans to bring the institute "to the next level." The following is an edited transcript.
Mainebiz: Is Maine's climate for family-owned businesses different or is there a commonality with other regions?
Weathersby: There is a commonality. The needs are unique because when you think of going to work every day and doing your job, tasks that you have to complete and people you have to work and get along with, that's a challenge just in a normal job. So when you consider the family dynamic and all that encompasses …
Sometimes the younger generation isn't interested?
Yes. Or sometimes they think it's an entitlement. But we need to instill values and a work ethic in our children about the importance of a third or fourth generation coming into a family business that has been cherished, and that generations before have worked so hard to build and nurture … We talk a lot about succession planning, and transitions, and family dynamics, and personalities and sibling rivalry and those topics that are sometimes hard to discuss.
What is the major difference between a family-owned and a non-family-owned business?
The family dynamics. If you're working in a family business, especially if it's a husband-wife relationship, you can never really leave work at the office. So you end up sitting around the dinner or breakfast table and you discuss the employees, and the issues and the bills. How do you ever get away from it? I guess some people have figured that out; they would have to, in order to succeed and survive. That's what I hear from our members. They don't want to do anything to harm that brother-sister or that father-daughter relationship.
Can you describe some of the new services you are offering?
Our members have asked that we provide more opportunities for them to network and build relationships. So we have these FamBiz After Hours every other month. We also have three new affinity [discussion] groups: Women in Family Business, Next Generation and Executives in Family Business.
What would you say are the challenges for a family-owned business? Are they interpersonal?
I think so. I think business is just challenging, period, and that someone who possesses an entrepreneurial spirit is unique. They are people who have a vision, they see it, they work hard for it, and I think what happens many times is that family-business owners hesitate to ask for help, they want to keep their family business very private, they hold that close to their vest. But I think they have to take on the mindset early in the game that this is a family business, yes, but it's a serious business and we have to run it as such. n