Shepard Lee says his decision four years ago to put together a board of outside directors was one of the best things he's ever done in business. Today the board advises his Westbrook, Maine, car dealership, Lee Auto Malls, which was started by his father and a partner 60 years ago.
"I serve on a number of different boards and saw the value outside board members bring," says Lee, 71. "Throughout the years, I kept thinking that I should have one, too. But I was ambivalent. While I knew I needed a group of outsiders to talk to about the larger issues, like how we should be positioning ourselves for the future, I've always been my own boss and I didn't want anyone telling me or my [family] what we could and couldn't do."
Lee's ambivalence is shared by most family business chiefs. They pride themselves on their independence. They pale at the thought of giving up either family or business privacy. And they see the process of group decision-making as inefficient and unwieldy.
Patricia Schiff Estess writes family business histories and is the author of two books, Managing Alternative Work Arrangements (Crisp Publishing) and Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage (Betterway Press).