Family businesses are not just “businesses”. A key government agency is monitoring this subsection of “business” in the United States, to find out how they operate and how they can flourish, or fail. Every year, each state chapter of the United States Small Business Administration grants an annual award for “Family Business of the Year” in each state. State-based S.B.A. Chapters accept nominations of family-owned businesses for the Jeffrey Butland Family Business of the Year award. The contest is not just to support healthy competition. Businesses that have managed technology changes, economic downturns, succession changes, changes in family dynamics, and flourished, are showcased and their stories, as well as their management tools, are offered to help other businesses.[see www.sba.gov]
This award honors a family-owned, and operated, business, operating at least fifteen years, in which the majority owner and operator is a member of a family that founded the business. The businesses themselves are in a wide range of industries, and each state and region has its own award, under the S.B.A. Umbrella. Businesses are nominated on the basis of engaging new technology, new software (such as route planning software for businesses that rely on making deliveries), and expansion into new areas, products, and services.
One common theme, in the after-awards interviews and articles, is that the winning business faced change and handled it well. Two terms used to describe a winning 130-year-old continuously operated farm, from Maryland, are “adaptive” and “growth-oriented”. In five generations, the farm managed to expand their product line the traditional farm products (circa 1883) to a new offshoot—the Creamery, where the business makes their own ice cream and hosts visitors at their facility, wise implementation of current trends – “agri-tourism” and “agritainment” and a new vision for the family farm that has traditionally struggled to survive.
How do the winners do it? “You don’t get there by being a solo guy at the top”, said Chuck Fry, first vice president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, member of the Maryland Agriculture Commission, and CEO of the 2013 winner.
Any business can learn from the winners. In the family-owned dairy farm, the children were the driving force behind creating “the Creamery”. In a global agricultural economy, tourists still want to visit the family farm and sample homemade ice cream. In a small flower business, using highly efficient routing software, and route planning within seconds, can be the first step to making the business “adaptive” and “growth-oriented”.