don’t be afraid of family business

Originally published in San Diego Metro Magazine.

Fights. Families torn apart over money. Shop talk at the dinner table. Tension. These can all be found in one extreme of the typical family business – but it’s definitely not the case in all. Family businesses have typically had a bad reputation – but my story, and countless others, prove that they can be much stronger – and even much more stable – than traditional businesses.

So the question is, what makes some family businesses so much stronger than others? What sets them apart?

In my experience, it is the same as what sets successful individuals apart from the rest of the pack. It takes a shared passion, where all parties are equally involved and entrenched in the business. It takes honesty, integrity, and complete transparency. It takes trust. And it takes an unparalleled work ethic.

At Hughes Marino, four of our five family members work together as a team. My dad is president and CEO. My mom is COO. My brother and I are brokers. Of course, my youngest brother (still in high school) has no interest in real estate whatsoever – but that can change! As a whole, we are 30 people strong – there just happens to be a corner in the office completely occupied by Hugheses.

I have been asked for years if I like working with my family…and the truth is that I love it. There is so much trust and love in our office – and I have those who have my best interests at heart (and are the best teachers I can imagine) training me. We have two married couples in the office, a set of twins, several parents and their children, and my family and I. It’s one big happy family – and so far it’s worked flawlessly.

It didn’t become flawless – and definitely wouldn’t have stayed flawless – if we didn’t make a few ground rules for working as a family.

1. Overcommunicate.

Communication is the key to everything – especially in situations where your emotions and relationships are on the line. There is a lot at stake in working with your family, and it’s easy to take things personally. At Hughes Marino, we encourage everyone to overcommunicate; if there is ever a question or a doubt, ask. Talking about it won’t hurt anything. It eliminates the possibility of letting an issue fester, or worse yet doing something that could potentially harm the team.

We also consistently ask each other, “What can I do to best support you?” We’re lucky at Hughes Marino in that quarterly, my parents invite a motivational speaker and coach to our office to teach us how to more effectively communicate (both written and verbal), how to more effectively work as a team, how to incorporate balance into our lives, etc. One of our firm’s coaches, Mike Robbins (a coach for Google, and countless other greatly admired companies), proposed the importance of this short, sweet, but incredibly important question. If we are constantly asking one another what we can do better to support them, we are much more aware of each other’s wants and needs. And knowing this, we can work infinitely stronger as a team.

2. Keep Work Talk at Work.

One area that I struggled with when I first joined the family business was downtime. It did not exist. Our family loves work – and as a result, we love to talk about it. There were times when we would wake up and talk about deals over breakfast… then work all day…then come home and talk shop over dinner…then move to the couch to “watch” Maria Bartiromo while talking more about work. It’s no surprise that I woke up dozens of times each night in a panic to check emails and write down to-dos to remember in the morning. Finally, after dozing off again, I would dream about work. I realized how important it is to turn off work mode and relax; it’s healthy to have downtime. Now, instead of watching Maria Bartiromo while talking shop, I sit glued to the TV through the Bachelor, Hart of Dixie, Fashion Star, and as many other chick flick TV shows I can fit in my “downtime” schedule. And you know what? It’s had a big impact on my happiness, and my inner peace. Who would have thought a show like the Bachelor can do that for a girl…

3. Trust Each Other, and Let Others Be Accountable. Delegate!

One of the reasons that I believe family businesses can be even more stable than traditional businesses, when executed right, is trust. We know each other better than anyone – we know each other’s expectations and preferences, from the big picture values to the minutia such as favorite fonts and colors. We’re able to execute to each other’s preferences without having to ask the tough questions.

According to the Engagement Survey Best Practices by The Gallup Organization, team members that “have a best friend at work” are more likely to be engaged, happy, and productive at work. I’m just lucky that they happen to be my family, too.

This article originally appeared in SD Metro Magazine.

Star

Star Hughes is a director at Hughes Marino, a San Diego commercial real estate company specializing in San Diego tenant representation and building purchases. Contact Star direct at (619) 238-2111 or star@hughesmarino.com to learn more.


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