Tom Hubler, a one-time family therapist who years ago started a business that works with family businesses on all the sticky issues, has merged his practice into the Platinum Group, the investment bank that also works disproportionately to help family businesses raise capital, cash in their chips through sales or mergers.
“There’s an overlap between the family and the business ‘circles,’” said Hubler, who taught family business management at the University of St. Thomas for more than a decade. “The plus side is the family business use best-family-business practices outperform the S&P 500. Family business is 60 percent of GDP. To me they are underappreciated.
“They also fail at a rate of 70 percent and only 23 percent make it to third generation. Why? It’s an organizational problem. People experience interpersonal issues and then there is blame. Differences over business and family. The differences between husbands and wives. The owner-entreprenuer who can’t let go. I’ve been asked to fix the ‘daughter-in-law problem. You solve it through structure and formality. Training programs. Compensation standards. Decision making. Family businesses are not well-equipped to talk about succession planning. That’s money and death, and many owners don’t want to talk about it. They don’t have a plan.”
Hubler and Steve Coleman, a veteran Platinum professional, are both in their 70s. They’ve seen it all. This business is part financial decision making and part psychology and family therapy.
“Families often don’t want to talk about business things and we can help them,” Coleman said. “And they learn who wants to be in business in the next generation. Sometimes, the best pathway is the sale. That’s the default. They do so when they can’t find another solution.”
A favorite client was Murphy Warehouse, the 100-year-old freight terminal-and-storage business. It used to be jointly run by elements of two families. In recent years, CEO Richard Murphy, a landscape architect and professor by background, got one-family control of the company after buying out the cousins.
PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that there will be an ownership change at 9 million of the 12 million privately owned businesses in America over the next 20 years.
Many baby boomer-owners will consider whether an heir should take over, versus a sale.