Family businesses must be able to communicate

CHICAGO – All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, wrote Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina.

In the produce industry, all family businesses are different — successful and unsuccessful — but one factor leads to the best chance of success: good communication.

At the United Fresh convention, a June 10 session explored the family business dynamic and underscored this key point: When communication is strong, family members are on the same page to success.

“You need honest communication,” said Greg Corsaro, president of Indianapolis Fruit Co. BB #:102610 “If not, it’s a waste. You also have to be able to accept honest communication.”

Adam Gamble, president of Russ Davis Wholesale, BB #:100699 said his company used to be run by two generations of the Davis family. The company is now employee-owned, but Gamble previously worked with his parents in a family business.

“Eighty percent of communication is non-verbal” between family members, Gamble said. “It’s important to verbalize these ideas to employees.”

Leslie Simmons, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports, BB #:144215 said her father runs the company, and she agreed it’s crucial to keep all employees in the loop.

“It’s important to keep non-family employees involved and set up clear lines of communications for them, who they need to talk to,” she said.

Gamble said family members of a business can discuss company goals, even heatedly, but when decisions are made to its direction, everyone has to be on board.

“If you’re not aligned, the culture will be poor, and it will be tough to succeed,” he said.

While most of that deals with family members currently running a company, when the ownership generation is ready to exit the business, Henry Hutcheson, moderator and President Family Business USA, a business consultancy, said they must answer Yes to three keys to succession:

1. Is the next generation both capable of succeeding and interested in it?
2. Can the current generation truly step back and get out of leadership?
3. Can the next generation get along well enough with each other and agree on a leadership structure to continue the business?

All that relies on a solid foundation of honest communication, Hutcheson said.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services