The Conflict-Free Family Business Owner – How does it feel to be free?

Thoughts on the handling of conflicting business duties and finding balance from Margaret de. Valois, Director at Western Pension Solutions (partner of The Family Business Network).
“Have you ever escaped from a city to the countryside? If so, you might have experienced that moment, two or three nights’ in when you wake in the middle of the night, alert and wondering what’s wrong.
It’s the lack of background noise. No sirens, traffic horns or people shouting on the street. An absence of noise that seems so startling at first that it feels wrong. In time, however, all your senses readjust and eventually your mind is at peace and, for some, this means the freedom and time to focus on the things that really matter.
I worked in the City for years and absolutely loved it. However, moving to Cornwall 5 years ago meant I lost the white noise which, for me, brought the freedom to focus on the stuff that matters, and not the small annoying stuff that doesn’t.
Your experiences inform who you are as a consultant, and my escape from London is something I often talk to family business owners about when we have a meeting. Fundamentally, I’m trying to help them find a calmer way of working, so there is a direct comparison.
There’s a sense over recent years that the conflicting demands that businesses are being put under are becoming more onerous. Sure, you’d expect a family business owner to be an individual who thrives under pressure and enjoys a challenge, but has this become too much? When it comes to pensions, the requirements under Workplace Pensions, plus additional governance and financial pressures with respect to running final salary schemes is white noise most business leaders could, quite frankly, do without.
So, how do you feel?
When I sit down with family business owners, I almost always ask them how they feel and how things are going. Sometimes, it takes time for them to open up, to sense that it’s safe to talk about what is happening in the business, but often it gets straight to the issue.
Quite often we talk about conflict, and in this case it’s useful to discuss how it would feel for the family business owner to regain their independence in relation to their pension duties and liabilities.
What decisions could be made, how could these be implemented and what would be the impact on profit and value? Whilst these ideas are not always possible in practise, it’s good to explore the sense of being able to breathe freely and to be able to make the right decisions for the company, not just the trustees and members. Of being able to sleep soundly at night, of knowing that you’re on the right track.
As a good friend said to me recently, it’s all about balance, and whilst a truly independent position may not be possible it’s good to explore how this may feel in order to inform your decisions when wearing “the right hat”. One can see the benefits of balance, and believe in the benefits of balance, but it’s only when you’ve really learned techniques to put balance into practise that you can really appreciate and benefit from it. Role playing can help.
If you’d like to get some balance, let’s have a chat.”
Western Pension Solutions is a specialist pension consultancy, which is part of the Vestey Group – a fourth-generation family business owned by the Vestey family. They provide strategic advice to family-owned businesses on how to manage their pension arrangements. Their friendly team can be contacted at +44 (0)20 7726 2718 or
pensions@vestey.com. To speak to Margaret directly, contact margaret.valois@vestey.com

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