The Family Champion and its Challenges

Published: Feb 21, 2022

You are a Family Enterprise. You are willing and capable to build and strengthen the healthy characteristics in being a family enterprise.  And you answered yes to setting up a family office.  Are you ready to include the family members in your structure?  This is a new concept to you, and concerns arise when contemplating whether every family member will be an active part of the family enterprise.  Can all members be included? Where do you even begin when skill sets are diverse?  How do you even begin to bring the family together to talk about the family enterprise?

Some families are comfortable to reach outside their family unit and hire a skilled FEA facilitator to help champion the family forward.  They can also help determine the right family member with the skills to take on this role.  Other families have an individual family member who naturally fits this role and already performs specific tasks to bring the family forward.  This individual may be referred to as the family champion.

What is a Family Champion? A Family Champion is a family member who acts as a catalyst to help other family members become more effective. The Family Champion is “a visionary catalyst who brings new energy into the family enterprise to support and develop the family ownership advantage.” 

A Family Champion usually carries the following characteristics (according to J. Nacht and G. Greenleaf in Family Champions and Champion Families):

  • Energetic, self-motivated, skilled at communication.
  • Committed to duty and responsibility towards their family legacy.
  • Trusted by the family.
  • Operating from a position of informal power.
  • Actively involved in governance as owners, though not working in the business.

A Family Champion rises to their responsibility through circumstances most often because there has been a business transition, they have taken an interest through education, a leadership void has occurred, or someone in the family has encouraged them to become leader.  Some common desired attributes that make a good family champion are:

  • High awareness of family needs and dynamics
  • Willingness to work as part of a team
  • Readiness to speak – and act on – what the family needs
  • Ability – and willingness – to wear many hats
  • Multiple skills

Many family enterprises that have addressed their inherited conflicts have been brought closer together through the urging of a next-generation member who serves as a family champion. These family members encourage their siblings/relatives to build new, stronger relationships with each other, letting go of past family dynamics.

A family champion is generally not appointed to the role; he or she simply steps up, it’s not hierarchical, and it’s not the leader of the business. It’s somebody in the family who just says, ‘Hey, we need to do better. We can do better.’” Rather than guiding the family by command-and-control, the champion emphasizes consensus. 

A family champion focus is concentrate on communication, interpersonal relationships and integrating different perspectives, and really respecting that there are a lot of perspectives out there in the family.  That listening has the outcome of people feeling more engaged, more respected and appreciated.

It takes courage, and a willingness to really step out there and it takes some guts to stand up and say, ‘We need to do something different.’”

Family champions must also be patient. Bringing a fractured family together can take years of work. Also, there is usually no “Thank you” that accompanies all the efforts a family champion puts in to get the family running the same race.  A family champion truly puts in the time because they see the value of putting the enterprise before the desires of one self.

Decision Tree Question: Are you including family members in the family enterprise structure?

Other resources are: Family Business Magazine

Family Champions and Champion Families, Developing Family Leaders to Sustain the Family Enterprise by Joshua G. Nacht and Gregory G. Greenleaf

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