The fight went to court, where the judge decided that since the Bible could not be cut in half and neither sibling would give in, it would be sold and the proceeds split between them. The fight for the Bible resulted in it no longer being in the family. Initially, both wanted the Bible for its keepsake value, but they lost sight of the reason for the fight and winning became the most important thing.
It's the principle
The Bible story reminded me of two brothers I worked with. They each owned 50 percent of a family business. One was in charge of sales. The other, an engineer, was in charge of operations. They had a good product in a good market, but the company never reached its potential.
One reason for the company's poor performance was that the brothers spent more time arguing than managing. When I met them, they'd been fighting for so long that it no longer mattered what the issue was. Neither would ever agree with the other. They were willing to sacrifice customer service and satisfaction if it meant showing up the other brother.
Not surprisingly, they lost the company. And it's always frustrating to see a successful or potentially successful business lost because people are standing on principle rather than reason.
When considering your company's succession plan, being aware of these types of situations will help you minimize the chance of them happening. If siblings would go to court over a Bible, imagine everything they could fight about in a business. The potential for this behavior in a family business can be reduced by:
- Being realistic when assessing your children's personalities and behavior styles.
- Not assuming that they will always play fair with each other.
- Carefully documenting succession plan details, even when they appear obvious.
- Incorporating a dispute resolution process into your plans.
Joel Strom (email@example.com) is director of Joel Strom Associates, LLC, the growth management practice of C&P Advisors LLC. The firm works exclusively with closely held businesses and their ownership, helping them set and achieve growth objectives while maximizing their profitability and value. Reach him at (216) 831-2663.