When Greg McCann was growing up in Pittsburgh he remembers waking up early on Saturday mornings, pulling his wagon down the snow-covered streets, and delivering fresh doughnuts from his father’s shop. The gig seemed like a lot of fun, until he would return to the shop, and his father would make him clean out the doughnut fryer.
“It doesn’t really make you want to have a doughnut,” he says. “I probably have one doughnut a year now. But it taught me what it means to be a member of a family business.”
McCann will discuss “The Next Generation: Its Eight Biggest Challenges” Thursday, October 22, at 8:30 a.m. at Fairleigh Dickinson’s Rothman Institute for Entrepreneurship in Madison. The lecture is free, but registration is required. Call 973-443-8842.
Ever since McCann was a child, the former college professor and entrepreneurial consultant says, his father has run several businesses. “Everything from restaurants to hospitals,” he says. His mother helped out with all aspects of the various businesses, but her main title, he jokes, was CEO, or “chief emotional officer.”
“Over the years, all of us worked at one of the businesses,” McCann says. “It taught me a lot.”
McCann went on to earn a bachelor’s in accounting from Stetson University in Florida and a law degree from the University of Florida. In addition to being a certified public accountant, he is a tenured professor of business law and family business at Stetson, where he founded the Family Enterprise Center and served as its director from 1998 to 2006. Currently, he is the academic coordinator of the family business curriculum.
In 2000 he founded his own company, the Florida-based McCann & Associates Consulting, where he works with family businesses in several areas, including succession, communication, conflict resolution, gender issues, and development of the next generation.
The challenges. The eight challenges facing the next generation, according to McCann, are: establishing credibility, determining your future, taking ownership and gaining professional development; applying intelligence and managing wealth and power; maintaining marketability; and utilizing objective feedback.
With managing wealth and power, it’s crucial to be a steward of the family’s wealth, McCann says, rather than a consumer of it. You must use profits to develop yourself and others, rather than to finance an extravagant lifestyle.
And with marketability, it’s important that the next generation of family business owners continually work to improve their skills, or they risk getting trapped in the “golden handcuffs,” a term used when family members are underqualified or overcompensated for their positions.
“The most miserable people I’ve seen are the 30-year-olds who got a B average in college and were hired as a charity by their parents,” McCann says. “They’re overpaid, underqualified, and feel trapped because they can’t compete with other employees. That corrupts the person, the business, and the family’s reputation.”
Tackling the challenges. Of the eight challenges, establishing credibility and utilizing positive feedback are the two that young adults need to address early on in their careers, particularly if they want to be a help, not a detriment, to their family business.
Credibility is weighted on internal and external levels. For example, developing self-confidence is an internal barometer, while paying attention to how other people view and validate your abilities is an external barometer. Both are needed for business owners to succeed, McCann says.
To establish credibility, it’s important to glean and utilize objective feedback from a mentor or even well-respected employees. This will help the next generation recognize both their strengths and weaknesses, as well as avoid a sense of entitlement, which “is the fastest way to erode your character,” McCann says.
“There is such a tendency with people in power to not give that objective feedback,” he says. “It’s like driving your car with the dashboard covered. You don’t get the feedback on how the system is working. With objective feedback, you can prevent future problems.”
Consequences. Failing to address any of the challenges, or ignoring them altogether, could have a damaging domino effect, both for the next generation and the family business, McCann says.
“The challenges can be managed. We all have blind spots. But if you aren’t aware of your blind spots, it could derail your career and your business,” he says. “The consequences are that you don’t raise a healthy adult, and you don’t create a legitimate employee.”
One way to avoid the consequences, McCann says, is to determine your future and develop a life plan, or script, that charts the course you plan to follow. This will help the next generation of business owners become active players in their lives and careers.
“Less than 3 percent of adults have any written life goals, so this is a powerful way to become a part of that small number and grow your family business,” McCann says. “It’s taking ownership and responsibility for your life.”