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Talking shop: Should families separate the boardroom table from the dinner table?

One of the trickiest aspects to navigate as a next generation member working in a family business is trying to find the right balance when it comes to work-life, family-life, and self-worth, says next gen entrepreneur Caroline Walerud.

One of the trickiest aspects to navigate as a next generation member working in a family business is trying to find the right balance when it comes to work-life, family-life, and self-worth, says next gen entrepreneur Caroline Walerud.

The second generation member of Sweden’s Walerud family is a partner in her family’s deep tech investment company, Walerud Ventures, and co-founder of Volumental, a startup which developed cloud-based 3D-scanning technology to customise products and services—namely footwear.

Speaking to CampdenFB, Walerud (pictured right) said after establishing herself as an entrepreneur outside the family with Volumental and joining her parents to establish Walerud Ventures, one aspect she is keen to improve is the ability to separate her work life from family life.

“As a family I think it’s important to make sure we have family time where work is completely off limits, because we love what we do and we think that what we are working on is fun, so understandably we get excited and bring our work up all the time, even at the dinner table,” she said.

“It can go the other way too, where we are in a boardroom to discuss business and we start talking about more personal things and that’s okay because we are very close, but at the same time I feel it’s important to create a separate identity from the family business and make sure that my feelings towards my family and my self-worth aren’t too linked to my work performance.”

As equal partners in the family business, Walerud and her parents, Jane and Bengt (main picture), join a maximum of two startups each at the very early stages, spending at least two days a week with their companies as hands-on investors—from setting up the early team and strategy, to packing boxes and staffing booths at trade shows.

“It’s a tricky issue because the family and the business can get so intertwined and you become associated it much more than normal so you need to make sure that doesn’t get under your skin, which I think is important for all next gens,” Walerud said.

“It isn’t a problem for our family yet, but it is something I think that maybe we should improve on for the future.”

One and the same

Like Walerud, Leon Fear (pictured left), second-generation director of UK-based international property investors Fear Group, also finds separating business discussions from family life is unavoidable most of the time, but feels that it works for his family.

“You can and should make time for personal discussions and chatting about things outside of business, but in my view business and life are completely intertwined,” he told CampdenFB.

“People often say about achieving a work-life balance, which I can understand, but in my view it is all just life.

“When you enjoy what you do, discussing business in amongst everything else that makes up life isn’t a chore at all.”

Fear works with his father, entrepreneur Stephen Fear, who founded Fear Group 50 years ago and acts as chairman of the company. Together, they are strategic land and planning experts, international property developers and investors.

“I am very lucky insomuch as my father is also my best mate—we have never tried to make it work, it just works.

“We can usually feel if it’s the right time to be discussing business or whether we want a break and just go and walk the dogs through the forest, or go to a restaurant and talk about football,” Fear said.

“We do what leading business schools might tell you not to do, mixing business and pleasure but we do it with family and friends and overall it works for us and we’re still here 50 years on and working with many people I knew as a kid.”

Benefits of the outlier

While the Fear and Walerud families have found success in keeping their business and personal lives intertwined and harmonious, Ben Ingram (pictured right), head of real estate and family office practices at executive search firm Berwick Partners, told CampdenFB that for larger and potential conflicting families, appointing a non-family chief executive to make communication—and mediation—easier could be a way forward.

“The chief executive can assume the role of mediator between family groups and individuals but, most importantly, they are a buffer between the family and the staff and operations of the businesses and/or office,” Ingram said.

“At a more holistic level, the appointment of independent trustees and fewer family members is also a successful and beneficial structural option… and in turn can insist upon keeping family disputes out of the business or office.”

Meanwhile, John Rouse, a tax, estates and succession expert and partner in private law firm Lodders, stressed the importance of formal rules to navigate the emotional relationships of working in a family business, including ensuring meetings are minuted, establish an action plan to reflect the family’s shared vision, setup ground rules to maintain a meeting discipline, and hold meetings on neutral territory rather than someone’s home.

“Whilst you would think that formal lines of communication or agreed procedures should be less relevant in a family business, conversely it is often more important to have more formal rules in a family business,” Rouse said.

“Businesses who fail to communicate efficiently or recognise the importance of establishing methods to achieve efficient communication can often fall into the trap of making irrational decisions based on emotional decisions rather than the right decision and in severe situations, a breakdown in the business.”

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