The sustainability and success of the family business, family economist Sharon Danes says, “depends not only on a successful business system, but also a well-functioning family.”
That is one of the insights that Danes has uncovered in her research as a professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development. Having shared these insights as a teacher and a consultant during her career, she’s this year’s honoree for the Hubler Award for Excellence in Service to Family Businesses. The Hubler Award recognizes professionals serving family businesses for their superior practice, support and dedication to the success of these businesses and the people behind them.
Danes is one of only a few family scientists who are working the family business discipline. Early on, she focused on couples’ dynamics managing family finances, then extended that to family businesses. In her work, Danes co-developed what she calls the sustainable family business theory. The theory says that both the family and the business need to function well in order for the business to be durable. In addition, Danes adapted the FIRO model—for “fundamental interrelationship orientation”—to core issues of conflicts, which can include decision authority and business mission—rather than on personality issues.
Danes herself grew up in a family business—namely, her family’s farming and trucking operation in eastern Wisconsin. Though she doesn’t have a stake in that business, “family businesses are near and dear to my heart,” she says. She also admires family businesses because they are major contributors to the economy.
Danes suggests that anyone considering starting a business “don’t just think about whether you have the expertise and industry knowledge and the financing. Do you have spousal commitment to the goals of that business?” If that commitment is missing, she adds, “there’s a vulnerability that will exist in the start of that business,” because spousal and family resources will not be available to help you get over challenges and difficulties of a new enterprise. You need a strong family to sustain a strong family business.