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Published: November 26, 2021
Author: Aniruddha Ganguly

What makes a CXO succeed in a family-run firm?

A newly hired CXO came to me (I was Group CHRO in a family-run firm then) quite confused, frustrated, and upset because he couldn’t understand what was expected of him! Does it remind you of someone?

My experience in hiring and onboarding professionals at the CXO level has been quite extensive.

Many of these professionals come with no prior experience of working with family professionals and encounter a sense of uncertainty, cultural mismatch, disappointment, loss of self-esteem, anxiety, and a lot more. This is aggravated by the seemingly porous boundary of authority & responsibility between the newly hired CXO and the family professional who is usually the CXO’s manager, sometimes younger in age and less qualified than the CXO.

This is likely to result in a mismatch of expectations, misunderstanding, and miscommunication from both sides. The CXO can make an early exit, which is neither party desired!

To prevent this, the CHRO is required to keep a close eye and guide the evolving relationship with wisdom, fairness, courage, and tact. With some help from the CHRO, both sides need to show restraint, patience, and willingness to learn from each other.

A non-family CXO and the family professional learn through the experience of working together. Regular consultation with the family business leader (the boss) is essential at the initial stage of forming the relationship to understand the owner’s concerns and priorities. The family business leader must learn to work with the CXO and evolve mutually agreed concerns and priorities. Aligned with those agreed concerns and priorities, CXO’s consistently strong performance and emotional intelligence build mutual trust in a while. 

Trust clarifies the boundaries gradually and helps in forming a solid partnership. There are many examples of non-family CXOs who have contributed solidly to the success of a family-run firm over long periods.

The ‘duet’ between a non-family CXO and a family business leader is not always easy. But the success of this partnership is essential for a family-run firm to raise the bar of professionalism and succession planning. The journey is usually complex and not always easy. In most cases, an external coach can be of immense help to increase the chance of success of such partnerships.

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