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Family Business – Blessing or Curse?

March 17, 2021

Family businesses can be a blessing or a curse. The business can be the goose laying golden eggs or a monkey trap.

(To trap a monkey, the hunter hollows a gourd through a small hole. The gourd is tied to a tree. A bit of fruit and nuts is placed in the gourd. The monkey comes and squeezes its hand to grasp the prize. With its hand clenched, the monkey cannot remove it. The monkey won’t let go its prize. Along comes the hunter and lops the monkey’s head off with a machete.)

As a curse, the family business can induct members to serve the business with the hope of one day having ownership but where that hope is used to manipulate or control.

So, without a clear succession plan and ownership agreement, issues may arise.

Those issues can include how shares are apportioned between siblings or other family members; who gets paid for what work; whether responsibilities and tasks are shared equitably; whether the majority shareholder (usually the parents) truly intend for the business to go to other family members or actually sell the business to liquify this asset.

Of course, those challenging issues can intensify when a family member marries and concern is raised for the outcome of a marriage that doesn’t continue and it’s affect on ownership.

Needless-to-say, in any of these scenarios, if one holds too tightly to a business arrangement that isn’t well specified and/or may be used to manipulate or control another, yet one is dependent upon that business economically, one can be trapped.

If you are in a family business, be mindful of those traps. Of course the way out is for the family member whose role and ownership feels precarious to open other options for themselves.

Those other options include learning how to start and manage one’s own business; taking courses and furthering one’s education in a field of interest; engaging in good financial planning to facilitate one’s independence.

The key to escaping the monkey trap is in generating options for alternative revenue strategies to support oneself and family, independent of the family business.

With that, you can let go the prize if you think your head is going to be lopped off.


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I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by video conferencing.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
www.yoursocialworker.com for counseling and support

www.garydirenfeld.com – to build your successful practice

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, former parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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