“Super boss” owners in successful family businesses

Family ownership is the most prevalent form of ownership structure in many countries. Unlike a corporation, family members and their extended relations may have different rights, expectations and responsibilities in the business. Unlike a professional leader, family owners tread a fine line of balance within relevant control and empowerment to sustain their businesses. In my interactions with some of the family businesses, I had the great fortune of meeting super boss owners who not only bring unique and collaborative approach with clear strategic direction, effective policies and procedures, effective communication lines and appropriate delegation that propel employee morale and productivity. What distinguished them from others?.  Firstly, they had a clear vision of what to focus on in terms of business areas and operational decisions.  They chose an area they are comfortable with and brought in professionals to run the other parts of business. For example, a Coimbatore based agricultural attachment company’s founder kept innovation and product development activities with himself and a professional CEO to run operations and sales. Same is the case with a third generation women super boss, who knew her strength was in marketing and brought in senior professionals to manage a complex manufacturing plant.  Super boss owners saw themselves as disruptors of status quo and were always listening and evaluating multiple areas to extend their business. Unstinted passion and intensive efforts around uncovering the value of their business made them unique. Super boss owners have consciously developed an ability to look at grand picture, and hone on to details whenever required without being struck at it.  Secondly, they are good at developing talent. They invested lot of time and efforts in recruitment. They were not afraid to hire people from other industries.  They spent considerable time and efforts in hiring and managing the individuals.  Super boss owners exhibit strong belief in nurturing talent and they are not afraid of hiring people from different backgrounds and industry experiences.  A second generation super boss had developed a unique way to identify talent.  She would have monthly meetings with senior professionals from industry or other family run business owners to elicit names of smart people. She would use informal methods to meet up and assess the person for in many informal settings to identify the initiative taking ability, creativity, and intelligence.  Super boss only managed the individual not his/her team and set impossibly high standards to push the entrants to limits.  They invested in rituals and process to create personal bonds and loyalty between the new entrant and themselves. Super boss completely trust their protégé whether family member or a professional to run the task. They signal at all events and functions the new leadership and completely let go their involvement. What I found particularly interesting is their ability to encourage their protégé to fail and refurbish and invigorate the business process. Super bosses realized the need for reinventing newer structures and had no qualms about burying their pet ideas that have long lived their utility. What I found unique about the super boss owners is their superb listening abilities. They made efforts to seek out information from all corners without creating an atmosphere of informers, abhor politics at all levels and let go information which were not key to the business. One such super boss had a simple rule, my doors are always open for our company and your family,  but no complaints.  In sum, super bosses followed a simple four box formula: focus – hire best – empower – intensive interactions at all levels.

Dr TR Madan Mohan


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