Stay In Touch

How to keep senior family members involved.

How can the leaders of a family business reinvent the business or change it significantly without being disrespectful to the senior generation looking on . . . often in horror, dismay or anger? With great care--especially if the "family" part of the family business is to be preserved.

"One of the most difficult and gut-wrenching meetings I was ever part of was the one where my cousins and I sat down with my dad, uncle and aunt and laid out our plans to rebuild the company," says CFO Rick Ghio, one of five family members who make up the executive team of Anthony's Fish Grotto in San Diego. The decision to make major changes came after a great deal of research as to why the five restaurants were losing customers and experiencing declining sales. "We told them we believed in our hearts that Anthony's wouldn't survive if we continued along the path they had laid out for us.

"The changes we planned with the help of a restaurant consultant were extensive--how we would conduct business, what we expected from our managers, how the restaurants should look and what was on the menu. We told them we were trying to get back to Grandma Ghio's original vision of the restaurant . . . an underwater grotto with shimmering lights and vibrant colors. They shed many tears as we were laying out the plans, and it wasn't easy gaining their support. But eventually we did."

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).

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Stay In Touch.

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