NOM Talks Episode 6 - Family Businesses

'Engage in a really open conversation'

Your family is what you need. What is it like to run a business with a family member? How do you keep business discussions away from family parties and personal feuds from the workplace? Family businesses take center stage in the sixth episode of NOM Talks, the podcast on topics facing entrepreneurs. From agility to innovation, from funding to employees. Topics covering all phases of entrepreneurship.

About family businesses, the two guests of episode six have a thing or two to say. Jan Tichelaar was director of Royal Tichelaar pottery factory in Makkum for twenty years. He retired there and is now director of another family business: table manufacturer Arco in Winterswijk. Marcel Douma ran a door factory as the third generation. He sold the company and is now a successful mediator for family businesses. Claudia van den Pol has been at the helm of Apollo in Coevorden for five years. Apollo is a developer and manufacturer of internal transport systems and is one of the oldest family businesses in the country.

A plea for vulnerability

An unusual, but mostly unexpected opening to a podcast for entrepreneurs: four musing middle-aged men, looking back on vacations with their families. As children of parents, going abroad for the first time, playing carefree. As fathers of children; one for the first time with a wife but without children, the other with the whole family. Open, honest and a little vulnerable. Because family feels familiar, doesn't it?

And therein lies an interesting paradox. Because precisely in family businesses, both gentlemen tell the now familiar host Wim A,B. and his sidekick Rob Drees, an open, vulnerable conversation is absolutely not an everyday occurrence. Important matters remain undiscussed.

''That can become a peat fires, that even continue through generations. That never get pronounced,'' Douma says. But why? ''You don't talk about that, because it's too sensitive,'' he explains. ''If I start talking about it now, it will come back at a birthday.'' The idea that it will automatically come up at some point is really the wrong idea, both guests agree. Instead, they make a plea for vulnerability.

Before it is too late

To prevent issues from going unspoken, appointing an outside director can be enormously valuable for a family business. For example, by making dormant issues explicit, says Tichelaar when asked about his current role as external director. ''That is often really appreciated, naming things.'' Before it's too late.

Sometimes it is simply too late to resolve it internally, Douma also says from personal experience. Then entrepreneurs call a mediator. Him. ,,Actually always when things are at a breaking point. Family businesses don't want it to get out of hand, but as a result it almost always ends up getting out of hand,'' he observes. Then it's hard work to smooth things over.

The power of vulnerability

So a plea for vulnerability, argue Mr. Tichelaar and Mr. Douma. You can only properly resolve disagreements - and more importantly, prevent them - by engaging in a truly open conversation. By being vulnerable.

And from whom else but American professor Brené Brown can we learn that, to make ourselves vulnerable? For her entire academic career, she has been researching the power of vulnerability. About entrepreneurship, she says the following: ,,Entrepreneurship is by definition vulnerable. The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.'' Those who embrace that will be successful.

You get a first taste of her ideas in her TEDTalk "The Power of Vulnerability. Since then, her message has been viewed more than 55 million times via the TEDx site and more than 16 million times on YouTube.

For those who want to delve deeper, Brown's books include The Power of Vulnerability and Dare to Lead. She also has a weekly podcast, Dare to Lead, in which she discusses vulnerable leadership with a variety of guests.

On the future

To avoid creating the wrong image, Tichelaar does want to emphasize in this episode that of course it is not all negative. It is often just the opposite in a family business. ''There is a part of it that makes it complex. And it's also really fantastic.''

This episode is full of wonderful examples that bear that out. The things that make family businesses so unique. The intrinsic values of continuity and caring for one's assets. Which only grows stronger - and thus more likely to survive - when vulnerability is embraced even more. By the way, the tools in this episode also apply to non-family businesses. Want to be inspired? Then listen to the sixth episode of NOM Talks.