What Happened to What Was Once the West’s Greatest Industrial Power? Dr. Henry M. Kaiser shares his family story and what he learned from it

It is a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco. I’m having lunch at the Embarcadero with Dr. Henry M. Kaiser. I met Dr. Kaiser a couple of years ago when I joined his lead in creating the FFI Northern California Chapter. Our shared passion for family business has made for a few interesting conversations in the past. Today is not an exception.

I’m listening to Dr. Kaiser’s explanation about what motivated him to write his book “Inheritance Lost, Heritage Transformed,” where he relates his life and the events that lead a Fortune 500 family-owned company to enter voluntary liquidation just seven years after the passing of its founder and his grandfather, iconic industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.

While I’m listening to Dr. Kaiser’s story, I cannot help but notice his candor, strong curiosity, drive to be better and his fight to be relevant and make a difference. I can almost feel his passion about helping others to avoid the pain, powerlessness and disappointment that he experienced when the family empire dissipated in front of his eyes. Within Dr. Kaiser’s story there are certainly some important lessons to share that may inspire others to take the actions needed to achieve a more positive outcome with their own family companies.

In this short interview, Dr. Henry M. Kaiser, former director of Kaiser Hospitals and Health Plans, explains the events that led to the voluntary liquidation of the family business and shares some words of wisdom about what he believes he, and those around him, could have been done better.

Written by Carmen Lence, Executive Coach at NextGen Consulting & Coaching LLC. Contact Carmen  at carmen@nextgenfamilybusiness.com

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How to Make It Cool to Work for a Family Business

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Let’s face it, working for a family business isn’t considered by most professional managers to be a great career move. Many managers believe the career prospects will be limited, as the top jobs will most likely go to family members. Also, many picture themselves in the middle of a medieval court full of intrigues and fights between rival heirs, struggling to keep themselves impartial. So, no wonder family businesses have a tough time attracting talent!

So, how to make it cool to work for a family business?

Outstanding company values, great leaders, a challenging job, attractive performance-based compensation and a culture of empowering and developing people, these are the keys to attracting and retaining talent for any company including a family business.

Take, for example, Roche. The Swiss Pharmaceutical giant employees more than 60,000 people; yet it is still controlled by the founding family. “There is a culture at Roche that nurtures talent,” says Alexander Zehnder, at the moment seconded to Genentech in the US, a member of the Roche Group. “This culture gives employees the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills, on- and off-the-job, and to gain international experience.”

Another example is the Bonnier Group, a Scandinavian media conglomerate of over 200 privately owned companies and currently in the sixth and seventh generation. Here, to make it more attractive for non-family managers, the governance structure is shared with non-family executives, with a non-family member either holding the chairmanship or the presidency.

Some of you may be thinking- these are huge companies you are talking about, they can afford to have all these systems in place and they will attract good people anyway. Well, this is a bit like the question “What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I believe that these are big, successful companies because they have put these systems to work in the first place.

So, let me sum up the must dos for making your company attractive to talented executives independent of its size:

– Great Values
People want to work for a company that cares about its people and that has a mission that motivates them.

– Great Leadership
People choose companies for their leaders. Great leaders do treat people with trust and respect. They build the capacity to achieve results, knowing that they do this by unleashing the talents of their people

– Performance-based culture
The combination of a strong performance ethic and an open and trusting environment achieves great job satisfaction.

– Attractive Compensation and promotion policies
Your company will get the best from your family and non-family executives if key management positions are open to non-family members, assigned based on competence, and utilize performance-based compensation.

I suggest making the promotions criteria a bit harder for family members, the reason being that as family members they will be in the spotlight. If they are clearly better no one will object.

– Family employment policy

While having members of the family working in the company is in the company’s interest, because they have stronger commitment and loyalty to the company (after all they own it), having family members that are not up to the job is dangerous and irresponsible.

A transparent family employment policy, which establishes the criteria for family members to join the company, will help you to avoid a tough time with your sister desperately wanting to get his dropout son into the business. Also, it will show non-family executives that jobs are not awarded on family merits, but on actual capabilities and performance.

If you link the points above with the flair of working for an innovative entrepreneurial company, able to adapt and respond quickly, with long-term vision and strong commitment to their customers and employees, all characteristics of family business, Wooow! It really sounds cool to work for a family business!

Written by Carmen Lence coach and Consultant at NextGen LLC