A Publication of WTVP

For me, it started when my dad asked me to program the VCR as a teenager. For the first time, I could see that my knowledge, electronics experience and willingness to test ideas were greater than his. Now that I’m a dad, I realize it may have been that he was just too tired to get behind the TV to make all the connections… or he wanted to give me a sense of accomplishment. Depending on which set of eyes you see a situation from, a very different set of outcomes can emerge.

For today’s family businesses that may be dealing with three or even four generations in the workplace, these different sets of eyes—all with varying attitudes, values, work ethics and views of the company’s potential—can become a difficult, even disastrous liability if not addressed. Facilitated discussions about company culture, roles, strategic and succession plans, and family dynamics with an awareness of the key attributes of each generation are a good starting point. Leaders who provide opportunities for younger family members to achieve the sense of accomplishment, purpose and challenge they need to feel part of the organization are most likely to set their companies up for a legacy of growth and success in later transitions.

Millennials, now moving into their 20s and 30s, are gaining influence on family business decisions as parents increasingly turn over key roles to their kids. Utilizing a natural tendency to acquire knowledge and collaborate through technology, this generation is expanding the reach of regional companies into global companies as they evolve to meet new marketplace demands.

In one recent example, a 70-year-old company still had the grandparents working in the office while their grandkids were working to create new workflows for the projects they were now getting from national accounts. What had once been a local, then regional company is now achieving national recognition for its quality, innovation and customized designs. The problems Grandpa had to solve as a startup were critical, yet he understood the founding generation was not equipped to address the speed and agility issues the company must solve today. To obtain the outcomes that will drive this company for the next 70 years, they have turned to those who think and act with much different eyes.

Is there a comparison between connecting the VCR with running a company? Maybe not, but the idea of utilizing youth to experiment, take risks, evaluate new strategies and create connections with customers, partners and suppliers is far too important for leaders to ignore today. You see, I realized that my dad gave me a challenge he didn’t want to take on; he knew I had a desire to learn and would derive greater satisfaction from it than he ever could. When you put these higher challenges into the equation, allowing young people to learn from failures and grow on their own, good things happen. iBi

Rob Newbold is a manufacturing specialist with the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center. For more information, call (888) 806-4632 or visit