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Can a Family Business Be Innovative?

  • 27 April 2016
  • Author: Cari Holbrook
  • Number of views: 2771
Can a Family Business Be Innovative?

Transgenerational entrepreneurship. This intimidating term is not the latest focus of a People Magazine cover story. Instead, it’s a business succession term used by organizations like Baylor University’s Institute for Family Business to describe the process of passing along not just a family business from generation to generation but the entrepreneurial mindset and capabilities that will enable new streams of wealth.

While it may sound complicated at first, the premise is quite simple: In order for a family business to survive the second or third generation (or beyond), its leaders must have a solid succession plan in place—one that encourages change and innovation. Embracing change and innovation, however, is not inherent to many family businesses, which is one of several reasons so many of them fail after the first generation. 

To illustrate this point, consider Driscoll Strawberry Associates, Inc. While Driscoll’s is a household name, the family business—now heading into its fifth generation— has only now formed a family council in order to engage the next generation early on. This builds on the company’s more informal secret to success: In the 150 years since the firm was founded, reports PwC, each generation has contributed something new, whether in terms of improved agricultural techniques, greater commercialization, or brand development. 

J. Miles Reiter, Driscoll’s current CEO, experienced this dedication to innovation firsthand 25 years ago when he recommended a simple change that secured the company’s future for decades to come. That innovation is the clamshell basket that likely has a regular home on your own kitchen counter. The baskets ensured that the berries didn’t get crushed in shopping bags and allows for the use of branded labels for better product recognition.  Now, with a focus on improving digital technology and management development, the company is once again reinventing itself as a global market powerhouse

Another successful multi-generational family business, Texas Disposal Systems, was born in 1977 with $10,000, one customer, one truck and plenty of determination. Since then, brothers and co-founders Bob and Jim Gregory have turned it into one of the largest independently owned solid waste collection and disposal companies in the nation. Over the years, the family moved into retail operations and organic products and even hosts an exotic game ranch on its land. Showing no signs of slowing down for the next generation, the co-founders recently began supplying and servicing portable restrooms.  The family’s next generation is now part of the leadership team and will be expected to help innovate well into the future.

Over and over again, successful family businesses prove that innovation isn’t just a good consideration but an essential requirement for long-term growth across generations. In its latest family business survey, PwC found that nearly all (95 percent) of family businesses in the U.S. have their sights set on business growth. However, less than one-fourth have a succession plan in place that is robust and documented in order to help support that growth, including a defined commitment to innovation that will span generations.

Contact us to discuss succession planning as well as small business strategies that foster long-term, sustainable innovation efforts. 

Image Copyright:  gajus / 123RF Stock Photo




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