Consultant Smoothes Out Rough Spots
THE WINDSOR STAR – Lifestyles – Thursday, April 21, 1994
A consultant who helps family businesses says he's not so much a referee as a coach.
Called in to help families with business problems, Aron Pervin views his work as helping the family business do what it does well even better.
He guides them through their egos, emotions and personalities so they can work through situations and get on with running the business the best they know how.
He sees all kinds of scenarios and stereotypes played out in families who operate businesses – the firms are as diverse as the owners.
In his 12 years specializing in family businesses, the certified management consultant with his own firm Pervin & Company, based in Toronto, has seen more than a little of what can work and what doesn't.
Often, he says, problems arise from lack of communication, mainly by parents who simply can't or don't listen. For their part, the grown children may commonly have unresolved and/or unrealistic expectations about the family business. They may have a sense of entitlement, unjustified by their lack of competency, skills and/or contribution.
Resentment can build on both sides, business suffers, problems only grow worse. And sometimes, people like Pervin may come in to sort things out.
"It's funny how many families have someone who's a Ghengis Khan. And many families have someone who still thinks he or she's on an allowance."
It's a career that constantly intrigues, he says, but he admits he's no magician: "If the business is in a real mess, I can't help them. With all of the families I deal with, I try to help them get better at what they already do well."
Like a good consultant, he knows when to leave – and that he must. He says his reward is seeing situations finally resolved in the family's capable hands.
Usually, there's an immediate problem, an estate plan or a plan to transfer the business. Then, he gets into underlying issues that have to be dealt with in order to solve the situation.
Pervin says the Canadian Association of Family Enterprises (CAFE) provides an excellent resource for family members involved in business. It represents 600 businesses and provides help, specifically for family members and their businesses. CAFE's office telephone number is (416) 940-9646; the address is Canadian Association of Family Enterprises, 7100 Woodbine Ave., Suite 310, Markham, Ont., L3R 5J2.
Here are more tips from Pervin:
- Communication – "Many families talk a mean streak," about how well they get along and communicate, Pervin says. But many really don't and often their culture and heritage get in the way. "How many parents know they have to actually listen to their kids in the business? Just because they talk about the business doesn't mean they're actually talking about their relationship to each other." Pervin says one of the best things a family can do is set up a family council that meets at least every three months.
- Respect and acceptance – Successful business families have mutual respect for each member and value and accept differences. "They trust and rely on each other. They're the families that can work through their problems as opposed to the families that can't even confront them."
"Just because they're talking about the business, doesn't mean they're talking about their relationship to each other."
– Aron Pervin
The family structure can work differently than the business structure, Pervin says. In business, differences are valued, everybody makes a contribution.
Everyone must feel they can offer something and feel comfortable about speaking out. "You gotta learn to fight fair. You have to accept the person for what the person is."
- Accept change – Often what's needed to start a business is different than what's eventually needed to keep it afloat. Family members have to realize that and adjust by pulling back or going in different directions as circumstances warrant.
- Develop outside interests – This is especially important for couples who operate businesses. People need time away from the business. Pervin knows couples who set strict limits, not allowing any talk about business to "contaminate" their home life.
"What most couples find is they do nothing else but talk about the business. So they have rooms where they just never talk business."