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Recording The History Of Your Family Business, Part 2

Important factors to keep in mind when creating your special book

  • Budget and schedule. Even if someone in the family is doing the writing, which doesn't usually happen, this won't be an inexpensive project. Count on spending a minimum of $15,000 to $20,000. But it's not unheard of to spend upwards of $250,000 for a hardbound book. And if you're using the book as the focal point of a celebration, like a 50-year anniversary, staying on schedule is a must. From start to finish, even a short book can take two years to research, write and produce; anything more extensive can take as long as five years.
  • Coordination. The issue of who's going to coordinate the project can't be trivialized, because it can cause quite a stir. One family member might want a specific event noted in the history, while another objects because it reflects a family member in a poor light. Gerald Rauenhorst, founder of Opus, a nationwide group of real estate developers based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, decided his family business history project wouldn't go through the various levels of approval other projects did. This one would be headed by the director of communications and need to be approved only by him; his daughter, Judy Rauenhorst Mahoney; and his son, Mark. In doing so, he avoided potential arguments and a process that could drag on months longer than necessary.
  • Distribution. To whom the history is distributed depends on its purpose, as well as other factors. Although Opus' history was developed primarily as a marketing piece, the company sent it to every employee's home and now gives a copy to each new employee. Its effect on employees is notable. "People knew bits and pieces of the history, but they didn't know it all, nor did they know about the philanthropic work the company has done and continues to do," says Sheila Thelemann, Opus' director of communications. The history is also distributed at seminars where its family members are either speakers or sponsors.

The rippling effect of a permanent history of the family and its business extends to the family as well. "I know the history [of our family business], of course," says Judy Mahoney. "But when I read about how my dad started and where the company is now, it makes me even prouder to be part of the family--and my children feel the same way."

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