Recap: A Coach and a CFO Discuss the Keys to Succeeding in a Family-Business

Meredith Moore and Pat Romboletti, co- hosts of Family Business Radio, spent an insightful and informative hour on Thursday, March 25th with guests Dean Harbry, with  Internal Innovations and a Professional Certified Coach credentialed through the International Coach Federation with, and Fritz Schlabach, CPA and (non-family) CFO of a family-owned business.

Fritz has been a non-family key executive for more than 20 years in family-owned businesses.  He explained that he grew up Amish and essentially was raised in a close knit family-environment on the family farm.  Listen to the Podcast for more details about his journey from his Amish family to the Marines, a Big 4 accounting firm and then his long career inside family owned-businesses.

Dean kicked off the conversation by explaining that an executive coach serves a specific function very different from a consultant. A coach partners with his client through a process of focusing on what’s inside that person—rather than coming in and telling the client what is wrong and how to fix it.  Similar to the way a professional athlete benefits from a coach, an executive coach “gets you farther faster,” he said.

One way he develops “executive presence” is by cultivating professional management skills. Using the illustration of what an executive does when something goes wrong, he pointed out that a professional manager, as opposed to the amateur manager, will forego finding a culprit in favor of finding solutions to the problem. This shift in attitude creates a safe environment in which employees feel like they can take risks and, just as important, will declare faster that a particular strategy isn’t working.

This point led to Fritz talking about his 20—year career preference for the family-owned business structure, which is an environment that requires him to have a wide bandwidth. He prefers the lack of bureaucracy where decisions can be made and unmade quickly. Additionally, he likes to wear many hats—“no two days are alike.” However, he also acknowledged that in a small company, you may do the mundane.  Light bulbs need to be changed. Toilets need to be cleaned. You have to humble yourself, set aside your issues and feel responsible, he urged.

Both guests gave compelling reasons for an executive to hire an executive coach. From Dean’s viewpoint, he sees that all human organizations—really, anywhere there are two or more people together—are relationship-driven. The resulting dynamics, whether in a family, a family-owned business or the largest corporation, creates tension. A coach will help an executive through that minefield. As for Fritz, he was clear that an executive coach doesn’t come with a magic wand. However, just as he, as an outsider, can provide clarity to the owner-family, a coach can supply him with much needed third-party objectivity.

One case in point: the situation within a family-owned business when the founder is considering bringing in a top-level, non-family executive. Fritz encouraged the founder/owner to get expert advice that will help them see what they are missing, something that requires them to accept that they may not have all the answers. Dean agreed by highlighting that, before taking such a step, the owner needs to do an in-depth evaluation of where the company stands. An honest and forward-thinking evaluation often arrives at the conclusion that they need to bring in someone with a different skill set and personality from the owner.

Please listen to (and download) the full discussion on our Podcast.  It is delightful mix of hard-earned wisdom and fresh perspective, guaranteed to be time well spent.

Dean Harbry, PCC, Executive Coach, Internal Innovations – Telephone: 770-783-2765

Fritz Schlabach, CPA

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