The Impact That Family Businesses Can Have on Society

We want to talk about the impact that family businesses can have on society. One example of this that it gets a lot of press, obviously, is the company, Chick-fil-A. And what we’re talking about today isn’t necessarily having a political conversation. I know that they’ve waded into those waters. What really fascinated me, what I wanted to tease out, Jeff, get your impression on was when I discovered that Truett Cathy who started Chick-fil-A actually had a covenant that he insisted that his children sign in order to get access to the business. Let me read a little bit about this. This is according to Business Insider, Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy wrote in a memoir titled, Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People, that he presented his children with a covenant to always uphold the company’s Christian values as it becomes a major force in the culture, which included philanthropic work, never opening on Sunday, and never taking the company public.

We will be faithful… This is a quote from the covenant, “We’ll be faithful to Christ, Lordship in our lives.” Cathy’s covenant stated, “As committed Christians, we will live a life of selfless devotion to his calling in our lives. We will prayerfully seek his leadership in all major decisions that impact our family and others. Our family roles as spouses to our lifelong mates, parents to our children, and loving aunts and uncles will be our priority.”

That’s awesome.

I love the idea of multi-generational family businesses. One of the things that that really stands in contrast to is public companies that because they are financially… There’s actually laws on the books where they have to do what’s in the fiduciary interest of their shareholders. In other words, they have to prioritize the financial interest of the shareholders above, oftentimes, personally held values. There isn’t a way for there to be strong enough values to overcome a lot of those things that take companies, corporations down a path where they basically don’t have any values besides making money. And one of the great contrast to that are the possibility of that privately held family businesses can, especially multi-generationally, represent values that are different than necessarily the cultural values. They represent those families and the values that they have, multi-generationally.

And I think this is a really interesting idea. It’s something that I’m really interested in. It’s very difficult to do, by the way. For most family businesses, they do tend to fall apart in the second or third generation. But how do you develop a family legacy that actually spans the test of time? I’m very interested in watching all of these examples, especially ones that play out over multiple generations. And so, I was really fascinated, Jeff, was curious what your thoughts were that he actually had a covenant and that the covenant was somehow how this asset got passed on generationally. What are your thoughts?

Yeah. I love it. I think especially… And you have to know where you’re at in the generations, I think. But with particularly high-level visionaries, I think you need to use that gift by making sure a vision can be heated through generations. And especially, if you’re the one responsible for inventing or starting something, I don’t think it needs to be overbearing. I love that it’s really just a couple of things, right? It’s like, “Don’t go public, don’t open on Sundays, and we’ll be really generous with this.” It’s not like, “Make every sandwich this way, this way, this way, and all these different things.” It’s not micromanaging with the vision, but it’s a high-level vision that he wants to push forward. And like you said, every company has a vision, whether it’s for their shareholders, whether it’s just the mission statement of making better products, or squeezing out profit margins, or whatever.

So, everyone already has one, but usually that’s coming from the boardroom, not from the father. And so, I love that picture of, “What would it look like to actually…” Because it’s, at one level, like you said, a family can actually be the strongest glue to hold a vision because what happens is in a normal business, because we just rinse and repeat, or we just get a new person, or whatever, there’s a disconnect on the new eras of the business because they don’t really even know or care about the person that came before them that started the business. And if they do, it’s not as strong as a bond. But man, if you’re stepping into something like, “Oh, I’m stepping into my father or my mother’s legacy, and it’s my job to pass that down.”

And it shouldn’t be a burden. It should be a gift. And I’ve seen a ton of ones where it is a gift like Chick-fil-A. They’re doing it well. I think I’ve told the story before of this awesome winery we went to in Sonoma where it was the seventh generation family-owned winery where every generation, someone takes the baton. If you think about that, that’s incredible that you can last that long and do that. But it comes down to vision, casting and passing, and it comes down to discipleship. What you notice in a lot of those companies is it’s not just passed to the person when they’re 40. Those people are working in the fields at age 10, or working in the back at age eight, or understanding… They’re saturated in the vision. And so, I think that’s really important too, that the parallel or the metaphor we’re talking about here is every family.

You don’t have to go build some business empire. But every family, I think you need to understand that your values, you should disciple your family in them and saturate them in them from day one because that’s what they’ll be able then to feel and absorb to pass down to the next generation and those values. Hopefully, if you’re building a strong family team should be that Jesus is King, he’s Lord. He’s coming to bring new creation. His death and his resurrection are the good news. And that’s really, really important. So, yeah. I love this one.

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