Making a documentary can take big step to ensure family business continuity

The Smiths (not their real name) own a 100 year-old successful international family business, but they are at a critical juncture. They have entered the time when most family businesses fail — the critical transition from third to fourth generation.

It was all much simpler when Great-Grandpa Smith started the company out of a rented warehouse, but the rising generation never met Smith and had no real connection to him besides the occasional anecdote told around the dining room table. The history of the company has been barely documented in any organized fashion.

However, the Smiths found that filling that absence was an important factor in business continuity.

Analysis is important

Great-Grandpa Smith’s son took over the company and now his three children share leadership. Each has children and grandchildren, but as the family grows there is no clear path to keeping them connected beyond the typical and costly family retreats, which often feel like forced bonding. Linda Smith, the matriarch, is concerned about how to give her children and grandchildren a greater sense of connection to their rich history as a family and family business.

Through research and consultation with trusted advisors, she determines that the most effective ways to bridge the generational divide is through a series of professionally produced documentary films about her family, their values, their history and their future. The process is illuminating, and it brings multiple generations together to work toward a common goal. The movies they are producing will affect both the living generations as well as future unborn generations of the family.

As her family is guided through a comprehensive interview process that is also being documented on camera, Linda Smith marvels as her already tight-knit family becomes even closer. Her children start to take their responsibilities as board members more seriously, there is more sharing of ideas, and the feeling of pride that emerges is organic, not contrived.

Power dynamics shift

The process has also shifted the power dynamics in a positive way, allowing other leaders to emerge from within the family, and it has given voices to many family members who often don’t share in the typical family meeting setting. It has given the introverts in her family a safe space in which to share and be heard, and it has given the extroverts the opportunity to tell their tales and have them recorded.

Everyone has their own memories and perceptions of their family, and family films are a powerful way to pull a cohesive, lasting story out of many seemingly fragmented pieces.

Since family dynamics are heightened when the additional pressure of being in business together is added to the mix, Linda Smith recognizes how her family’s commitment to making movies together has strengthened their family system, their loyalty to the family business and created new memories that they can share and build on for years to come.

So, as the Smiths undertake the complicated process of transitioning business leadership to the next generation and the older generation relinquishes control, it was clear that the storytelling and the filmmaking process was the key to creating even stronger bonds beyond their shared wealth, business interests and obvious family connections.

Arielle Nobile is the CEO and chief creative officer of Legacy Connections Films, which she founded 10 years ago. LCF has produced more than 100 private documentary films, legacy films that serve as a mirror for clients to reflect on how far they have come and to share a vision for where they are going. For more information, visit legacyconnectionsfilms.com.