Time again for the Wisconsin Family Business of the Year awards

The annual Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards dinner is coming on Thursday, May 14th. This is one of my favorite yearly events because I always learn from the great stories each family business has to share.

But I have to clarify a point. I am not an authority on family businesses. Just because I’ve written a couple books on the subject, doesn’t mean I have all the answers, especially when it comes to family harmony in business, including rivalries –– sibling, spousal, or intergenerational.

I have to admit, I haven’t a clue on how to solve all of the stresses that accompany the role of the “head honcho” in the family business, or the problems and pressures that go with the territory of working in a family-owned company.

There are lots of books on the subject, but many times the answers we’re looking for aren’t between the covers of a book. Each family business is unique, so there really aren’t any cut and dried answers. Many times, the answers come just through the daily work of running a business as a family.

Every year, the nominees’ background stories show respect is a big key to success in a family business. Balancing family and business dynamics is difficult, so respect for different managerial and leadership styles can help support the harmony needed for family members to work together.

It’s always nice to hear the next generation say they love being involved in a family company, they have pride in what their families are doing, they enjoy knowing they can help create a “family empire,” and they love their families.

The Family Business Center at UW-Madison has groups open to family businesses for education, camaraderie, and networking. The center offers meetings with expert speakers on chain of command, motivation, the role of non-family to the family member, succession planning, and developing policies and procedures, among many other important programs. As family businesses grow, they have a greater need for policies on things like decision-making, compensation, performance evaluation, codes of conduct, and shareholder agreements.



Hearing the award winners’ stories at the awards dinner is always inspirational, regardless of whether you’re running or working in a family-owned company. When the family name is on the business’ door, that’s something to be valued. It’s also something to be protected. 

Not too long ago I was at a luncheon, seated next to a woman who carped and complained through the entire hour-and-a-half program. She was feeling unhappy and unappreciated in her position (a very high-status job), and kept insisting that I was so much better off since I own a family business and I’m “my own boss.” I kept my laughter in check as I thought of all the times I’ve heard things like this over nearly 40 years.

It really makes me wonder why people would imagine things are rosy all the time when you own or manage a family-owned company. Some people actually must believe we lead idyllic lives, rolling in dough, going to work when we feel like it, leaving for long lunches every day, asking the maid service to do the laundry and rake the yard before they leave –– oh, yeah! The truth is, family business owners only have to work half days –– any 12 hours they want.

The annual Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Awards go to companies that inspire and that set examples for the rest of us. Hearing their stories, you can tell they’re not taking the day off when the sun is shining and the fish are biting.

Congratulations to all the nominees. I can’t wait to hear your stories.

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