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Ensuring A Seamless & Successful Transition Non- Family Professionals in Family-owned Businesses

It is often seen that Family Owned & Family Manged (FOFM) Organisations at some point intime, hire nonfamily experts from within or outside the industry to accelerate growth andenhance the business. Family businesses may appear to be attractive employers for non-family professionals because of their informal and less bureaucratic structure. However, oncethey are in, most of them face challenges not anticipated by them or experienced in theirprevious employments. They can be as daunting as they can be rewarding.

The Case of Indian MNC Professional

“Zest Bliss” is one of the long sustaining personal care manufacturers, who started with oneproduct and now have a wide range of products. As it moved to the third generation, theproduct portfolio, revenue and size of operations grew. The first two generations, family leadersran the business by themselves. They depended on their close circle and people referred bythem. Family members managed all key operations. Once the third generation took charge ofthe Board along with second generation, the idea of hiring nonfamily professionals to key rolesarose and then came Ms. Yola as the Chief Marketing Officer- she was the Sr.Vice President inone of the largest FMCG companies.

Ms. Yola joined “Zest Bliss” with a lot of expectations. She anticipated that she did not have to report to multilayered corporate leaders. Sitting in the Head Office, she thought decisions would be faster, she would have more operational and financial freedom.

These points had been discussed and agreed during the initial meetings with Board ofDirectors. However, on joining she realised that the situation is far from reality. She neededapproval for everything, very action/meeting was questioned and needed approval from theowners. She had little powers for financial approvals and people authority. “This is the way wedo things here” /MNC culture will not work here” etc were the commonly heard phrases fromher peer group and subordinates. What added to her frustration was that so called progressivethird generation members also advised her to be patient.

Ms. Yola started contacting her recruiter.

This is the situation faced by most of the professionals when they join FOFM organisations, especially in the first phase of their professionalisation journey.

Are there any tips for such Non-Family Professionals who are contemplating joining or have just joined a family business? Well, here are a few pointers that could help them navigate the new environment more effectively and avoid disappointments.

  1. Understand the Family Legacy & Culture: Family values, culture and traditions are mainly handed down over generations and are unique to each family. Professionals who sensitize themselves to this at the very beginning will be better placed to manoeuvre and integrate into the system.
  2. Understand the Organisation Culture: Study the organisation in detail, understand the employer branding, take feedback on work culture either directly (from known employees/ex-employees) or from social media.
  3. Introspect on your alignment to the Organisation: Gauge if you can align to the Family Vision. Accept the role only once you are fully convinced that alignment can happen. It will allow you to make a much stronger case for change right from the start. Be rational and don’t let the grievance on current role or need of a job cloud your decision.
  4. Understand your Role: Deep dive all aspects of your role before meeting the board / director for interview. Clarify areas of concern, reporting, decision making etc. It is always better to clarify your doubts directly.
  5. Learn about the Current Leadership: Study about the Reporting Manager, their relationship with Board. As it’s a family board (mostly) try to understand the role of the Director especially the one who has direct connection with you during decision making. During the process of recruitment and familiarisation meet with Directors one to one and collectively.
  6. Ensure to meet all members of the Family Board before joining: This will help you to identify the long-term plan of the Board. It will also help to explain your operation style and plan for the organisation. Observe disagreements and challenges along the way. Notice the synergies. Visit the workplace and locality officially and unofficially a few times to know more about the local culture and facilities.
  7. Adapt to Change: This is one of the most desired attributes. Moving out of comfortzone, and not expecting to replicate everything you in the previous job will help. Everyorganisation is unique. Create what is suitable for this organisation. Since familytraditions are long-established, decision-making may be slow. Maintaining balance inbeing patient while at the same time offering fresh perspectives can go a long way.Preparing oneself to go through transition will reduce the impact of the changes.
  8. Build & Maintain Trust: Though important in every organisation, its criticality in family- owned ventures is amplified because of the need for loyalty and honesty. Maintain confidentiality and establish personal credibility. It will go a long way in getting accepted into the system faster.
  9. Observe Boundaries: Intentionally or otherwise, non-family professionals may get pulled into family conversations. Always maintaining professionalism, not crossing the line, not taking sides and not giving unsolicited opinions are of utmost importance. Be neutral.
  10. Be Flexible: As family members have the same background and upbringing, they may be used to doing things in a certain way. Hence there is the risk of groupthink and resistance to change. More so if the reins of the company are in the hands of an elderly person. On the other hand, the professionals may be used to certain other systems and processes. Getting buy in and making slow and steady changes rather than my way or the highway approach is important.

It is observed that most of the FOFM organisations are extremely hospitable and welcoming during the initial period of the new leader. However, conflicts start arising when they both are rigid, not able to change and not able to see each other’s perspective. This is where you need an Executive Coach, Most of the FOFM organisation appoint Executive Coaches for their Sr leadership team to guide them through the transition.

An experienced and Qualified Coach can guide the non-family professional bridge the gaps between the individual’s background and the family culture and help him/her assimilate better. Expectations mismatch on both sides can also be clarified by the Executive Coach. He/she can work with them to identify the right communication, processes and behaviours. In short, he/she can serve as an invaluable and objective resource to ensure an effective and smooth transition.

Thus, the professionalisation of family business will not exist only in paper but will be visible through the growth of the organisation.


Mr. M.R. Rajesh Kumar
Lead Partner

Ms. Sheela Warrier
Consultant Organizational Performance