If you have sold to a family business you have certainly experienced the “Dad” factor. Virtually all designated heir’s to a business either feel obliged or are expected to get their fathers or mothers to sign-off on business decisions. The heir will tell you they can make the decision without this but plan for and expect this to be a required step in the process. Even if Dad doesn’t need to say “yes”, their opinion which may come in the form of a question the heir just doesn’t have answers for may have a great impact.
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This dynamic equally applies to non-family businesses i.e. stock holders, partners, advisors, colleagues and key members of the executive staff but the emotional weight of a parent's opinion shouldn’t be underestimated.
Consider the dynamics at play.
- The financial future of senior may be tied to the business
- The dad may have been dragged kicking and screaming to exit
- Their spouses feelings about the father-son-daughter relationship are unknown
- Dad may have ruled with an iron fist or have insisted on “consensus”
- The compelling reasons for investing may not apply to them (the parents)
- Previous decisions by the heir may not have worked out well
Think about the relationship with your parents and the process of making an emotionally charged decision. An example might be taking the car keys away or selling the house and moving them to a retirement community. Despite best intentions things will get complicated and emotional.
How should you approach the Dad factor?
First, don’t fool yourself into believing it doesn’t apply and don’t buy into the re-assurances from the heir that they can make the decision. Second, ask about comparable decisions and what went wrong. Ask whether the compelling reasons are compelling to dad and why. Find out what dads compelling reasons are, for example “it’s very important that my son completely own and execute a critical business initiative and that I empower him to do this”. “I need to tangibly demonstrate to him and the employees I have confidence in his abilities.”
Here are some additional questions to consider.
- Does dad have real or perceived expertise in the area being addressed?
- Does dad agree it’s critical there needs to be a change?
- Has the dad worked with companies like yours?
- Were these relationships successful?
- What does the dad need to know to approve moving forward?
- How strong is the heir and are they willing to push back on their mom or dad?
- Do mom or dad trust you?
Working with family companies can be a lot of fun and very rewarding but you need to get in the door first. The father-son-daughter dynamics are a critical first hurdle and lay the groundwork for whether you are viewed as an advisor or a salesperson.