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Over The Hill

How to steer your business through a midlife crisis.

Your family business has made it through its initial entrepreneurial struggle, sailed through its first succession, and now has third- or fourth-generation owners and managers. Will it be able to bypass a midlife crisis?

Probably not--especially if it lumbers along without being aware that there may be forces bringing it down, says Mike Cohn, family business consultant and president of The Cohn Financial Group Inc. in Phoenix, which specializes in business succession consulting.

Who are these potential enemies? The family owners themselves.

A business founded by a grandfather in the 1920s, for example, might have three generations of shareholders--cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, children, even in-laws. Some might live in the same town as the business and be involved in its management; others might be thousands of miles away, disinterested in everything about the business save its dividend checks.

Too much distance or, on the flip side, too much management interference by owners can be the midlife crisis that threatens an established family business' survival.

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Over The Hill.

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