Leading with trust as a family enterprise


Leading with trust as a family enterprise—a global perspective

How to thrive in a disrupted market

Author: William Chou (CN)

Family-run enterprises often have a competitive advantage of deep trust with their stakeholders. How has COVID-19 affected these relationships—and how can these enterprises respond?

Trust is the need of the hour

On either side of the steps leading up to the New York Public Library sit two marble lions. Their names, Patience and Fortitude, were given by New York City’s mayor in the 1930s to remind citizens what was needed to survive the economic struggles of the Great Depression.1 Today, people all over the world can benefit from these traits. Companies can too. When one considers the characteristics that differentiate family enterprises, they often note their patience (their ability to take the long view) and fortitude (their ability to be decisive and agile) as elements of competitive advantage.

These advantages can multiply when specific organizational priorities critical to private family enterprises are managed effectively: communication, responding to growth or contraction, digital transformation, planning for the future, and governance. While managing these priorities is challenging under ordinary circumstances, it is especially challenging in the current global pandemic where disruptions are impacting all businesses and all aspects of life.

Family enterprises can address these challenges by leading with trust. Trust is the bond connecting the family enterprise to its stakeholders, and it is through trust that the enterprise originally flourished.

Indeed, in many respects, many family enterprise leaders are already leading with trust, moving swiftly to protect the safety of their workers and customers, resetting their business priorities, and supporting the societies in which they operate through donations of time, energy, and resources.

Certainly, there is still opportunity to do more. Family enterprise governance is one such example. The governance practices of many family enterprises often need to be more formalized, especially where the organization is controlled by a single patriarch or matriarch. While a streamlined, informal leadership structure may allow for more agility, it may also serve as a potential chokepoint when complex decisions need to be made, especially during the current pandemic and when future disruptions occur.

This paper discusses how family enterprises can take further actions to engender trust—demonstrating their competence in executing daily operations successfully, while meeting the varying needs of their stakeholders affected by current disruptions. These needs fall into four broad areas of trust: physical, emotional, financial, and digital.

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