A View from the Outside

Allen Bettis helps family-run companies prepare for their futures by creating boards.
A View from the Outside

There’s a quotation from a client that family business consultant Allen Bettis often cites: “We know our business best. But we don’t always know what is best for our business.” Family members often identify very closely with the way their company has long operated, which can result in missing changes in the market and in their industry, keeping their businesses from adjusting and growing.

That’s where Bettis can provide guidance. His Minneapolis-based practice, Legacy Associates Family Business Advisers, helps family-run companies establish boards of directors to help their businesses continue to grow and thrive. He is this year’s winner of the Hubler Award for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Working with Family Businesses. The award honors professionals who work with family businesses to help them solve their most challenging issues.

“He has become a leader in the family business world for developing boards of directors for family businesses and has made that his primary focus,” says Tom Hubler, creator of the Minnesota Family Business Awards and founder of Minneapolis-based Hubler for Business Families Inc., a Minnesota-based consultancy.

In most family businesses, Hubler says, the founder is a strong-minded entrepreneur who has guided the company’s success through intuitive leadership. But once the entrepreneur passes on, or passes on the company to family members, the situation becomes complicated. “When you have multiple members of the family involved in the family-owned business, you have to have a board of directors in order to develop a stronger business perspective and avoid the family politics,” says Hubler.

Before finding his calling, Bettis practiced as a psychologist for 16 years. During that time, he discovered that he wanted to work with people who were building something. In the mid-1980s, he discovered family business advising, which was a relatively new field at the time. Eventually, Bettis began to focus on helping families organize themselves in relation to their business. “That led me to the governance focus,” he says. Bettis launched Legacy Associates in 1997. His clientele is located throughout the U.S., Latin America and South America and includes multi-billion dollar entities, as well as a company that’s remained in the family for six generations.

Family businesses reach the stage of needing more governance because of their growth and their success, Bettis says. A strong non-family director, he adds, “understands the family, their goals, their values for their business and also provides some expertise and some objectivity that they don’t have among themselves.” And that can help them keep going—and growing.