Minnesota Family Business Hubler Award: Barbara Hauser

Minnesota Family Business Hubler Award: Barbara Hauser

This attorney has helped family businesses worldwide democratize themselves.

How can business-owning families best make decisions together? This issue has been at the heart of Barbara Hauser’s family business practice. 

Hauser began working with family businesses as an attorney with the Minneapolis-based law firm Maslon in the early 1980s. That led to four years working solely with a Twin Cities-area family, then to an international family-business practice that took her to Japan, France, and throughout the Middle East. For her work helping business-owning families work better together, Hauser is this year’s winner of the Hubler Award for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Working with Family Businesses. 

“She’s an international figure in family business work,” says Tom Hubler, the founder of Minneapolis-based consultancy Hubler for Business Families and the founder of the Minnesota Family Business Awards. “She is multifaceted in her capacity to interact with people and to talk about issues in the context of family businesses.” 

During her career as a consultant and author, Hauser has focused on governance, though she says she prefers the “plain-language term of ‘family decision making.’ ” 

From 2005-2016, Hauser conducted most of her practice in Saudi Arabia. That happened because her physician husband traveled annually to the Middle Eastern nation to provide training in his specialty, ophthalmic pathology. One year, Hauser came along with him and met a wealthy family who asked for her help resolving internal conflicts over their business. Word got out about her work, and “soon I was working nearly full time for Saudi family businesses,” she says. “It was fascinating.”

Hauser recently wrote a chapter for a soon-to-be-published book on family businesses that summarizes her approach to governance. The
elements of good decision making include: 

  • Transparency. “Everyone in the family gets the right information, and the information is shared.” 
  • Accountability. “If someone says he’ll do something, you can hold him to it.” 
  • Participation. “So often, decisions are made by a few family members or only the senior member.” Opening up the decision-making process is “the best way for a family to work together.” 

Hauser retired from consulting work about two years ago. A Minneapolis resident, she is now the editor in chief of The International Family Offices Journal, published quarterly in London. As a writer and editor, she continues to stress the need for democratic decision making. Before any family begins to work together, she says, its members should agree that “they will follow a system of rules and an agreed-upon process. And they should all agree to live by the results from the democratic process.” Good advice for any business, whatever country it calls home.