Embracing the Dynamics of Family Business

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Since I can remember, my family business has been a part of my life. In 1980, the year I was born, my dad and his partners founded Greenridge Realty. I grew up proud of the business my dad built and fondly remember company picnics, visiting the office and filling in as an admin in the summers throughout my teen years.

But joining the family business in adulthood? I wasn't sure that was for me.

The decision was clearer for my brother, Adam, who today serves as Greenridge's President and for our Vice President, Walter, whose dad led the company alongside mine for decades. In my case, it took some years going "out on my own" and working in other industries to realize that for me, the pros outweigh the cons.

Most days, I'm nothing but grateful for the opportunities and career our family business has provided me—but it's not without challenges. Here are three lessons we've learned along the way.

Get outside of the family hivemind.
When you've grown up alongside the family business, it's easy to become overprotective of "the way things have always been done." It's important to step out of the echo chamber and gain new and varied perspectives.

For me, this meant a near-decade of my career spent working in other industries. I draw on that experience daily and try to lend those varied perspectives to my colleagues—many of whom haven't worked in other industries.

For Walter, exposure to other philosophies and processes comes from interaction with peers and counterparts at other real estate firms across the country, or locally through organizations like the Family Business Alliance. Whatever the outlet, these peers will help you avoid a biased feedback cycle.

Set boundaries.
When you work closely with family members every day, it can be tough to tune out whatever stressors came up at the office during the week when you sit down for Sunday dinner. It's important to set boundaries for yourself, and respect those of your family members when you're "off the clock."

In our family, for the most part, we don't "talk shop" when we're together enjoying family time—it can wait. I feel lucky that this seems to have naturally become an unspoken rule for us. In any business where personal relationships are involved, it behooves everyone to define roles, make expectations clear and set boundaries early in the professional relationship.

Celebrate your history—but embrace change.
Leadership succession in any business can be tumultuous, and in a family business even more so—I mean, there's an entire HBO series on the topic. Change is hard. Giving up control is hard. Proving yourself while in the shadow of your elders is hard.

However, it's inevitable and necessary if you want the organization to survive long term. Our leadership transition has been relatively amicable and successful ... but it was not without missteps. The seasoned generation was at times resistant to change. We up-and-comers were often too eager to evolve and do things our way. To their credit, our dads did an admirable job checking their egos and letting us make mistakes that would help us learn and grow. And, we as their kids took some risks and fought for changes that have helped us move the company forward.

Ultimately, it has taken all of us respecting the company's foundation as just that: a firm and good foundation that was meant to be built upon. My brother Adam said it well recently:

"There's always the potential that legacy can be a heavy thing, and I think it's wonderful that for us it's an uplifting piece of who we are as a company ... and we think that's going to be a strength moving forward."

Without a doubt, family business and succession is tricky, and it's something we work at every day. But, with mutual respect, open communication and clear expectations, it can be an amazingly rewarding experience.

Beth DeVries is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Greenridge Realty, Inc., one of Michigan's longest-standing family-owned real estate agencies. Greenridge currently employs more than 400 real estate agents across 26 West Michigan offices. For more information on Greenridge Realty, visit greenridge.com.


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