A Family Affair

Now more than ever, family-owned businesses must craft solid succession plans to develop enterprises that grow and prosper

For generations, family-owned businesses have been the cornerstone of the African American community, propelling many black families to reach their American dream. The greatest part of American wealth lies in family-owned businesses and, according to Family Business Review, family firms comprise 80% to 90% of all business enterprises in North America. But running a family business is no picnic. Besides the intricacies involved in separating the personal from the business relationships, there are the everyday details of running a company and the responsibility of preserving the business for future generations.

Having a succession plan is the key to the survival of any family-owned businesses, experts say. Yet results of a 2002 survey by the Family Firm Institute (FFI) of 800 family-owned businesses reveals that insufficient estate planning, failure to prepare for the inevitable transition, and the lack of funds to pay estate taxes are the leading causes for the failure of most family-owned businesses. FFI, a Boston-based organization that assists and educates members of family-owned businesses, adds that in 47% of the cases, the ultimate collapse of the firm was precipitated by the founder’s death. Therefore, for African American family businesses, survival means crafting a solid succession plan, whether it’s passing on the company to the next generation or selling the business altogether.

BUILDING ON A PARTNERSHIP
Trina and Avery Byrd say the key to a strong and successful partnership–whether it’s in business or their personal life–is recognizing your spouse’s skills, work habits, and work style. Trina, 38, is the president and CEO and Avery, 39, is the director of Freehold, New Jersey-based Bradford & Byrd Associates, a provider of industrial cleaning, hospital-grade cleaning, office cleaning, floor-care maintenance, and event cleanup (such as concerts and sports) services firm with $2 million in annual revenues.

“Trina wears six or seven different hats per day,” says Avery, who also works as a senior Wall Street financial executive and is the “macro visionary” of the business.
“I couldn’t do her job,” he admits. “I don’t want to be on her turf.” Trina’s “turf” includes handling the daily account management activities for clients such as New Jersey Transit, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sprint, and Fleet Bank.

The Byrds say setting work and personal boundaries are essential, particularly as it relates to rearing their 5-year-old daughter, Autumn. Trina recalls many times before motherhood when she would work 20-hour days. But her daughter has brought more balance. “Home means relaxation to me. I can’t work at home. And that’s made [me] be more efficient. I have no time to waste during the day,” she says.

Avery, however, boasts of his perennial love of work. “I wake up at 3:15 a.m. everyday, getting only about four hours of sleep per night. But Trina likes her downtime. And it’s important that I respect her habits. I know that if I want to discuss a serious business matter with Trina, I have to do it before 9:30 p.m. After that, business is over.”

Another important ingredient: communication. This, the Byrds say, may even require training.

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