FBA Accredited Adviser
BA, LLB, MBA, LLM, Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors
How long have you been working with family businesses?
I have been involved in family businesses all my life; my grandfather started and operated the only company in New Zealand which manufactured elements. It was very much a family business, with both my uncles initially working in the business (until one of my uncles moved to Australia) and my mother helping with the books. I remember as a child every Sunday helping my grandfather sort out the invoices, receipts and cheques, putting them into piles on the floor of the lounge. Growing up my siblings, cousins and I helped out on the factory floor in the school holidays. My uncle ultimately took over the family business, until it was sold to a multi-national. I still have the photographs of the business and the cartoons of my grandfather framed, to remind me of my roots in family businesses and the commitment to the family values and integrity instilled in us by my grandfather.
As a lawyer I have worked with a lot of family businesses. When I started as an articled clerk after graduating from the University of Queensland, I worked in the rural division of Cannan and Peterson (now Norton Rose) where most of the clients were involved in family businesses. I loved it. My practice has always involved a number of family businesses in a wide range of sectors including manufacturing, sales, franchising, consulting, finance and services.
My husband, Neil and I have also worked together for a lengthy part of our legal careers, so I understand first-hand the juggling between the different roles and the need to delineate between business and family pressures!
What’s one of the most common mistakes you see in family businesses?
With family businesses, often the intellectual property (including know-how and processes) has been put together by the family over time, often in an informal way. Unless there is a formal process to capture, store and protect the intellectual property, the company value can be significantly reduced over time.
One of my key areas of practice is intellectual property and data protection. Brands and the company value can be severely adversely affected by a company not protecting its intellectual property, data or the personal information it holds. As an experienced independent company director, this is also an area of interest and focus, particularly in relation to determining and mitigating risks.
What is your “uh ha” moment with your clients?
Because it is a family business, it does not mean that everyone gets on, is on the same page, has the same views, sees the company going in the same direction or wants to work in the business. Communication is essential and it is very important early in the relationship with a family company to understand the dynamics and the individual roles, responsibilities, potential areas of conflict or disagreement or just ‘niggles’. Nothing is more important than family; the business should not be a source of festering conflict that damages those bonds and relationships.