What Happens When Family Businesses Share Their Remarkable Stories (2024)

Family businesses are a trove of incredible stories across generations, but often owners don’t take the time to reflect on and share these stories publicly. But when they do, the impact is powerful. Not only as a marketing strategy, but to elevate the purpose of the company externally and to prepare the next generation for leadership. The first annual 2024 VISbility Ranking revealed that a majority of family businesses who are committed to being a force for good are missing key opportunities for sharing their stories (and their character and values) externally.

In this article we will hear from three of companies that have chosen to invest in storytelling and learn what happened when they did.

Daring To Be Bold With Robert Pasin of Radio Flyer

To celebrate their 80th anniversary, third-generation leader of Radio Flyer Robert Pasin built the world’s largest Little Red Wagon in New York City, shared his grandfather’s story. Then they asked customers of all ages to submit their own favorite Radio Flyer wagon stories. The storytelling campaign was a hit.

“That was the launching point of our beginning to articulate our story to the public and for ourselves,” said Pasin. Storytelling has become a major part of the Radio Flyer brand. “Our product is actually a vehicle for people to tell their own stories,” said Pasin.

But getting permission to tell the story was not easy. “Unless you've got some innovative stakeholder,” said Doug Gray, founder of Action Learning Associates. “It tends to be next gen, not an older person who's going to act as the champion [of telling the family story]. There are two drivers that I've seen. One is the next gen who are digitally trusting. And the other is a matronly figure — it could be mom or grandma [who says] I want to capture the story of how we built X, and how we've supported this community or grandpa's legacy.”

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Pasin had had to fight upstream to tell the family story. “I recognized the power of our story,” said Pasin, “We had never told our story publicly about my grandpa. My grandpa and my dad were very averse to PR. They didn't want any media coverage. So when we were getting ready for our 80th anniversary, I had this huge fight with my dad.” Without his father’s blessings, he hired a PR firm.

His daring to go against his father’s wishes paid off. Since their 80th anniversary celebration, they’ve found ways to retell their founding story again and again. “We've gotten literally billions of media impressions from telling our story this way.” But Pasin’s passion for storytelling goes beyond brand building.

Currently, the company is working with a comic artist to create an internal handbook that delves into company values through playful stories. “This rulebook is actually the first time we’re codifying our storytelling about the culture [of Radio Flyer],” said Pasin. To add to in-person development, Pasin believes employees will benefit from a written version. “It will be great just to have a book that we could hand people and say, if you want to know how to be successful here, here's the recipe,” Pasin said.

Daring To Listen with Jeff Moore of ATI Restoration

ATI Restoration, a leading family-operated disaster restoration company, is a proponent of storytelling. After publishing an organizational biography to celebrate ATI’s 30th anniversary, second-generation president Jeff Moore decided to commission another book. But this time, ATI was not the central character. Rather, the book, Confluence, shares the story of the first 5 restoration businesses to be acquired by ATI — from the seller’s perspective. Having gone through the agonizing dilemma of whether or not to partner with a private equity form, the Moore family can personally relate to the pain that sellers feel when they embark on the M&A process. And Moore wants potential sellers to know that the Moore family, see, hear and understand them. A one-of-a-kind M&A manual, Confluence shares 5 very different perspectives on selling — from wanting to retire, to navigating complex ownership structures, to saving their business through selling.

Because ATI Restoration has the goal of growing through acquisition, they wanted a soft-handed way to engage with potential sellers. “I think it's our job to educate people on their decisions,” explained Moore. ATI Restoration makes the book available at conferences, to people in the industry and others interested in selling.

“It's been really helpful,” said Moore. “It doesn't put pressure on someone to have to jump on a call... They can read the book and say ‘oh, maybe this isn't for me,’ or ‘maybe I do want to find out more.’ It's been really helpful for some owners on their journey of deciding when and if they'll be ready to sell their company. ”

Selling a business is never easy — the legal work, inspections, negotiations, communicating with employees. It’s stressful for everyone involved. This is especially true in their line of work. Restoration is physically and emotionally exhausting — meeting with clients who are in the middle of disaster, laboring in buildings and homes impacted by smoke, fire, and flooding. Most family-operated restoration businesses liken their employees to family members. Jeff Bronson, one of the sellers who tells his story in Confluence, describes the process of selling akin to grieving over a loss. Moore knows the process well, but most people will only go through selling a business once in their lifetime. “It’s a really tough decision. It's not all rainbows and unicorns,” said Moore. In the end, ATI wants the process of acquisition to be net positive for the seller. For Moore making sure the sellers understand the process is the first step in building a good and lasting relationship with an acquired business.

Daring To Inspire With Karla Trotman of Electro Soft, Inc.

Though storytelling can be a significant boon for brand-building and growing your business, family business consultant Thomasina Williams points out it can serve another purpose. It’s about honoring the inspirational qualities of previous generations and building connections to the present moment. “It requires vulnerability. And most of us just are not comfortable with that kind of vulnerability,” said Williams.

Karla Trotman, second-generation president of Electro Soft, Inc. understands this deeply. She set out to write a book about the manufacturing industry and what the nextgen could look like. But in the process of writing, she realized the actual story was about her family persevering as black entrepreneurs in a tough, high-barrier industry.

“It's hard to not tell the story of how difficult it is to be black and be in business,” Trotman reflected. “That becomes a story of systemic racism. It becomes stories of why we couldn't put my father's face on the website for years.” At first her publishers questioned her choice of title. “I want to call the book ‘Dark, Dirty and Dangerous’ …because that's what people think of manufacturing. And honestly, that's what they think of black people.” By telling her family’s story she will be working to undo harmful stereotypes of both.

Further, for Trotman it's a way to shed light on the black wealth gap. “Having a company is wealth generation. It's generational wealth,” said Trotman. “It changed the trajectory of our entire family for generations. And if we don't talk about it, and normalize it so that others can feel that they can [start a company], we're never going to change the black wealth gap.”

Her book is slated to be published by Advantage Media in October 2024.

The Takeaway

When family businesses take the time to share their stories they create space for connection and inspiration — with customers, employees, and other business leaders. Whether the stories honor legacy, combat stereotypes, or open up meaningful space for empathy, the power of these stories have a ripple effect to impact their communities. What stories do you have to tell? What are you waiting for?

What Happens When Family Businesses Share Their Remarkable Stories (2024)

FAQs

Why is the role of the family so critical to the success of a family business? ›

They provide a guiding framework for decision-making, fostering trust, commitment, and a long-term vision. By embracing their values while adapting to change, family businesses can navigate the dynamic world of commerce and create a successful and enduring legacy for generations to come.

What is the survival rate of family owned businesses? ›

The average life span of a family-owned business is 24 years (familybusinesscenter.com, 2010). About 40% of U.S. family-owned businesses turn into second-generation businesses, approximately 13% are passed down successfully to a third generation, and 3% to a fourth or beyond (Businessweek.com, 2010).

What is the uniqueness of family business? ›

They possess a unique blend of qualities, contributing to their success over generations. They have conservative planning at the core, which provides stability and continuity while adapting to changing times. They maintain a long-term orientation while not losing sight of the short term.

Why is the role of a family business important? ›

Family-owned businesses play a significant role in creating global wealth and are often responsible for driving substantial revenue and economic growth.

Why is family business a strength? ›

Strengths of family businesses:

Trust and communication: Family members usually have a higher level of trust in each other, which can lead to open communication and efficient decision-making.

What is the best structure for a family-owned business? ›

An LLC is a great option for family businesses. LLCs offer liability protection without many of the administrative requirements of a corporation. While working on your overall structure, keep taxes in mind. Your tax burden may impact who in your family assumes certain roles.

Why family is important for success? ›

While schools lay the foundation of knowledge and skills, it is often the unwavering support from family that transforms them into meaningful academic achievement and personal growth. The role of family in academic performance is multifaceted and extends beyond mere encouragement.

Why are family values important in family business? ›

Generally, families apply their values to their businesses and as such their values influence the success of the business. Therefore, values are taken very much into consideration during the formulation of a succession plan which takes the business to the next level and ensures that it lives on through generations.

What is a key factor in the success in a family business? ›

Set boundaries

Leaders of flourishing family-owned businesses know that setting boundaries is critical to establishing and maintaining success. Institute and uphold a clear separation between family and business. In other words, keep family issues out of the boardroom, and keep work at the office.

What is the role of family in the growth of an entrepreneur? ›

Family support plays a vital role in an entrepreneur's journey. Through their belief, encouragement, and involvement, families provide a nurturing environment for entrepreneurial growth. Communication about business challenges and their financial impact ensures transparency and helps the family plan for the future.

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