How to create a successful family business

As part of #ChallengeRichard, I was sent the following request: Help thousands of business families succeed at succession by sharing how you did it. I couldn’t think of a better time to write about this then during It runs in the family month on Virgin.com. Here’s my advice:

So many people separate family and work, worried that one will negatively affect the other. I have experienced first-hand the value of working with family. My kids, Holly and Sam, and their partners Freddie and Bellie, work for Virgin Management and the Group's non-profit foundation Virgin Unite. We’re also lucky to be joined by some members of our extended family; cousins, nephews, nieces, even my mother Eve – Virgin really is a family affair.

 

One of the most important factors in a thriving family unit is trust, and the same can be said for business. Trusting someone’s opinion and judgement makes doing business a lot more enjoyable and efficient – and fun! Office politics can be harsh, and while disagreements happen within families too, there’s a solidarity that tends to win out and propel agendas forward.

Another great thing about working with family is you are already aware of each others’ strengths and weaknesses, which makes dividing up tasks and delegating a lot easier. My film producer son, Sam, is artistic; and my daughter, Holly, having studied a medicine degree, is very practical. They also both have their own interests and passions.

Working with Virgin Active and Virgin Unite, Holly is determined to motivate and encourage young people – particularly girls – to live healthier and more proactive lives. While Sam is focused on ending the war on drugs and abolishing the death penalty, working with Virgin Unite and his film company Sundog Pictures to create a global movement.

In order for a family business to succeed, it’s so important that each member is encouraged to find their passion points. Not everyone is motivated by the same things, or shares the same skill set – this is still true in families, despite genetics giving us a helping hand – so it’s crucial that everyone hones in on an area in which they can contribute and excel. 

And once they do, they will be proud of what they do and the family business – which is of utmost importance, because when the day comes to hand over the reins, your team will need to be motivated and inspired to carry on the future success of the business.

A family business doesn’t have to be restricted to those that share your genes. At Virgin Group we recognise that togetherness is a hugely important aspect of life and we refer to each other as a family. In fact, the reason we have been able to grow into a global group is because family values are the cornerstone of the brand’s culture. Bonds of love and friendship encourage collaboration, and help to create productive working environments that are fun and energetic. The family is led in each different business by a different brilliant CEO, and all over the world and across many different sectors, we love to collaborate and exchange ideas.

The nature of work is changing – the hours, the contact and the responsibilities are nothing like they were 50 years ago. Today, most people spend more time with their colleagues than anyone else in the world. With this in mind, it makes sense to turn professional relationships into real friendships, or better still work with your loved ones. Your business will benefit in the long run.

So that’s my advice for successful succession planning. But don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere yet!

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