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What makes a family business successful?

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Antique cashier till on shop counterAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Wayne Rivers, President of the Family Business Institute, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

As the co-founder and President of the Family Business Institute, I have written extensively on what makes family businesses successful.

For first generation family businesses, I believe the primary ingredients for success are a focused vision and finding a viable economic niche.

The typical founder of a family business understands the technical skills of his or her industry. These ambitious individuals take their technical experience, say “I can do this better,” and, with a great burst of energy and courage, start their own enterprises.

First generation entrepreneurs are strong personalities, optimistic in outlook, and – even though faced with crisis after crisis – are never deterred in the pursuit of their visions.

But what about the sons and daughters, wives or husbands, who take the business forward? Transitioning and subsequent generation family business leaders require more and varied skills to be successful.

They must develop their capabilities in communication, business finance and planning, and leadership development and training.  Starting a successful family business is one of the most difficult things a person can do.  Keeping that business successful over the generations is even more challenging.

In the US, family businesses account for over half of employment and almost two-thirds of gross domestic product.  Family business, in short, is BIG BUSINESS.  The same is true the world over.

The people who achieve successful family businesses combine these different skill sets and invest plenty of hard work, determination, thrift, and perseverance.


Wayne Rivers is the President of The Family Business Institute, Inc.  FBI’s mission is to deliver interpersonal, operational and financial solutions to help family and closely-held businesses achieve breakthrough success.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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