Almost everyone who shops knows Walmart is the largest family owned business in the United States. The company now has 11,000 stores in 27 countries with annual worldwide net sales of more than $482 billion. The founder, Sam Walton, opened his first store in Arkansas in 1962 and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Although Walmart is now owned by stockholders, Walmart family members own the controlling shares of stock.
In 1869, Henry John Heinz started his business making his first product: horseradish. His famous ketchup appeared on the market seven years later. It now sells 650 million bottles of ketchup every year. When John Heinz died in a plane crash in 1991, his wife Teresa took over the management of the family business.
Levi Strauss, owner of a dry goods store, became passionate about a new type of men’s pants designed by his partner, Jacob Davis. They obtained a patent and began selling their blue jeans in 1872. When Strauss died childless, he left the business to his two nephews, one of whom brought his son-in-law, Walter Haas, in to the business. The business is still run by Strauss and Haas descendants.
There are many other examples of family owned businesses that have thrived for years. They all have some elements in common that contribute to their longevity and success.
- Passion: The driving force behind the success of the family owned businesses is the passion the members have for the product or business and the connection they feel to their family members as they all work together toward their common goal.
- Values as important as wealth: The founders of the business have a compulsion to transfer their values, such as their work ethic, volunteering in the community and philanthropy, to their family members who they bring in to the business. Transferring wealth is important but takes a back seat to values. Almost all successful family businesses have a track record of philanthropy and charitable giving.
- New generations learn from the older ones: As young family members enter the business, they are willing to listen to their older family members as mentors. They respect how the business has been conducted through the years and recognize it as key to its current success.
- Older generations learn from the younger ones: The older generations are willing and eager to listen to the new ideas and introduction of new technology by the new family members. Both generations respect what they can learn from each other.
- Keep the family and business reputation intact: Both generations are cognizant of the business and family reputation. They are aware that how they act outside the business and how they treat other people will reflect on the entire family and on the business.
Family members who work long hours together for the success of their business find they need to create balance. They need to respect each other and the time they each need away from the business. They also need pleasant family gatherings where they do not talk about business and enjoy being together as family members, not just business associates.