New Allies

Seeing Green

Enter a new generation of family business owners eager to make their mark. "If all the new generation needs is a capital infusion to fund a parent's retirement, I'd be very reluctant to bring a venture capitalist into the picture. But if the next generation's need for capital includes plans for substantial growth, that's another story," says Bob Goldstein, partner in Berger, Goldstein & Co., a Deerfield, Illinois, financial consulting firm specializing in family businesses.

If this new wave of family business owners chooses to infuse the business with money drawn from equity funding, they'll want to find equity funders who understand family businesses, are willing to take minority ownership positions, and who see this as a long-term partnering relationship with the family, says de Visscher. "The funders may be on the board of directors and they may serve as a dialogue platform for the family," he says, "but they would not be interested in running the company."

Despite such promises, many family business owners remain suspicious. "One of the hardest things we have to do when dealing with family businesses is convince them that we want to help them preserve family ownership," says Jeffrey McKibben of Saugatuck Capital Co., a Stamford, Connecticut, private investment firm specializing in family businesses. "We understand business issues, strategic risk and capital structure, but we didn't grow up in the business like they did. They know their customers, their employees and their organization. We don't want to get involved in their operations."

Before pursuing private equity funding, you need to be prepared. "Don't go into this type of venture without a thorough understanding of it--or without a business plan," warns Nancy Upton, family business expert and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Baylor University. She offers the following advice:

Attend family forum meetings where equity funding is frequently discussed, and learn as much about it as possible. You can find these meetings at family business centers connected with nearby universities.

Identify the equity funding group or groups that might be interested in your business by checking the latest edition of Pratt's Guide to Venture Capital Sources (Pratt) at your local library.

Find an intermediary. "If you just send an equity funding firm a business plan with a letter, you're one in a pile of 50," says Upton. "It's best to work through an attorney, accountant, banker or advisor who has a relationship with the firm."

De Visscher, whose firm maintains a database of private equity investors for family-owned businesses, says there's one thing family business owners should always keep in mind: "All aspects of the match must be compatible--philosophical, personal and financial."

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This article was originally published in the July 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: New Allies.

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