Family Business

What Happens When the Family Business Outgrows the Family?

There’s nothing better than running a successful business and growing rapidly. Riding the wave of success, you can do nothing wrong. Or can you?

Keeping your skill set up to speed in a fast growing business can be challenging. Founders who have homegrown skill sets are especially at risk. Fast growth brings leaders into unchartered territory causing them to learn through trial by fire. Many mistakes can be made, which won’t necessarily cripple the business, but can cause serious harm.

“we could be great owners, but we weren’t necessarily the best managers”
–Andrew Molson, Molson Coors Brewing Company

I really like this statement from Andrew Molson. It proves that the Molson Family recognized their limitations and accepted the idea that someone else could manage the business more effectively than the family. It’s a huge step forward when a family can accept the concept of letting go of their ego and recognizing they can’t do everything on their own.

Signs the Business is Outgrowing You

  • Feeling overwhelmed – no “slack” time
  • Paying less attention to detail
  • Increasingly missing opportunities
  • Less time for strategic thinking
  • Neglected issues becoming crises
  • Blindsided more frequently with unexpected situations
  • Less innovation

Our Experience.

In our family business we initially grew organically through start-ups and then pursued a more aggressive growth strategy through acquisitions.  As we went through the later growth stages, we had to learn everything for the first time, make mistakes, and were increasingly blindsided by unexpected situations. Eventually the business outgrew our family’s skill sets and experience level. After some painful crises, we eventually hired key executives from outside the family who had experience in larger scale businesses who could better anticipate the growth issues we were going through. For example, we had no experience with acquisitions and went outside of the family to bring in a CFO.

Giving Up Control.

One of our most uncomfortable feelings when we began bringing in non-family executives was delegating job tasks and decision-making responsibilities. We were in the habit of doing things ourselves and making decisions on our own. Now we had to entrust others to take over some of our responsibilities and involve more people in the decision-making loop.

What’s My Role?

One concern we had was how our roles would change. Some felt we would be less involved in the running of the business, but it actually gave us an opportunity to do more of the things we enjoyed most. It freed the family to not only step back and work on the strategic direction of the business, but also surprisingly allowed us to work more hands-on in our areas of responsibility. After all, these were the entrepreneurial aspects of the business we enjoyed most and missed as the business grew larger.

Bridging the Skills Gap.

Non-family management can help supplement the family’s limited skill set. What often happens is the family tries to learn everything on their own. You can choose to learn it, but it will take time and it will require slowing the growth of the business and missing opportunities.

Been There. Done That.

Bringing in non-family key executives with larger company experience can help you navigate the unchartered course of the business. They have experienced the changes and issues that companies go through in the later stages of growth. This helps the company to better anticipate issues before they happen.

An odd thing happens once you get your new management team up and running. You no longer feel like you’re in the line of fire and you find more “slack” time to work on “pent-up” projects and think more strategically. The business becomes fun again.


  1. Write down the trigger issues that indicate you are over your head
  2. Don’t wait until it’s too painful to begin hiring non-family key executives
  3. Decide what your new role will be after bringing in non-family talent
  4. Don’t think of bringing in non-family management as a sign of weakness, rather think of it as an opportunity to move into new roles that are more fulfilling
  5. Don’t confuse delegating to key non-family managers as giving up control. You’re still the owner and calling the shots.