Never underestimate the vital role of the spouse

RUNNING a family business is hard, not just for the founder or senior generation leaders, but also on the whole family.

To quote Barry Moltz in an article he wrote for an online magazine All Business, “Running a business is like driving a car on a winding mountain road. While it may be tough for you, the passengers get car sick. This is especially true of your spouse, who is in the back seat turned around and blindfolded. If you can’t see where your business is going, they have no idea what’s going on!”

In my previous article related to satisfying the founder or senior generation leader expectations, it is important to reflect on the five ultimate challenges that every family owned enterprise must aspire to:

1. A healthy and stable business but ready to explore opportunities

2. A healthy and harmonious family, free from any major conflict

3. A family business that thrives on professionalism, excellence and meritocracy

4. A family business that will transition to a family inspired business run by professional leaders and finally

5. A family business that embraces governance and stewardship so it will continue from generation to generation

The vital role of the significant other

In a Forbes Magazine article about Entrepreneurial spouses, David Williams highlights one of the most critical roles but least acknowledged contribution of the spouse.

Williams went on to explain a myth that “being the spouse of an entrepreneur is highly desirable—that it’s great to be married to someone who loves their work and is taking creative risks. That ‘being your own boss’ leaves you with a greater income and higher flexibility to take time off for vacations or to attend to family needs.

In actuality, the opposite is far more typically true, the author added. The truth of the entrepreneurial life is a tornado of long hours, high risk and uncertainty.

Additionally, if an entrepreneurial company fails, it can often take the family’s finances down with it, which can lead to marital troubles or even trigger annulment.”

The spouse as the broker and peace maker

In the Asian context, the spouse plays a huge and crucial role in reigning in the family members as well as maintaining harmony within the family. Conflict is one of the biggest reasons for family members leaving the family business. And if the children are fighting with each other or goes into an argument or are are angry with their father, instinctively the mother often plays the part of a shock absorber, a listening ear and intervenes when needed. Spouses also broker or mediate and, more often than not, use their natural influence to prevent petty issues from escalating.

The cardinal expectations of the spouse 

For family members to be in the good graces of their mother or father, I have listed below the 10 rules to manage the expectations of the significant other.

1. He or she must experience financial security within the family.

2. He or she is offered the opportunity to contribute to the family business in whatever way he or she could willingly deliver.

3. The spouse gets appropriate rewards – compensation, benefits and recognition for working in the family business or by virtue of rights to ownership (for non-working spouses).

4. The spouse holds his or her own identity as a person and/or as someone at the professional level and not to be only known as the wife or the husband of the founder or senior generation leader.

5. He or she must receive relevant information concerning the family business and its effects to the family.

6. He or she must have the capacity to assert and decide over matters affecting the family in relation to the family business.

7. Spouses should be welcome at the family council and at all other family meetings.

8. Family members must understand the spouse’s reluctance to let go of her role in business, especially after the death of the founder.

9. He or she must be acknowledged as someone that can mediate conflicts and provide advice to family members.

10. The spouse is the beacon of light and must carry the power and influence long after the death of the founder or after a succession to the next generation.


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