University of Northern Iowa



Avoiding the Awkward Thanksgiving Starts with Structure

Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2018

By Dan Beenken, Advance Iowa program Director

August, 9, 2018

Mixing family and business – is often said to be a dangerous proposition. While that can be true, it
doesn't have to be. Iowa’s economy is built on longstanding, family owned firms – so we know it’s not
The key ingredient to harmony? Structure. I know most people don’t like it and would rather float
along without it. But in a family-owned company, its crucial. Planning, designing, AND communicating
that structure can go a long way toward reducing conflict for the next generation.
Stats are often cited that less than 1/3 of all family businesses survive to the 2 nd generation, and of
those, less than half make it to generation 3. There are numerous reasons why, but most all of them
come back to the lack of a transition plan- and the communication up and down the generations on the
development of it.
Developing a structure for ownership and management for the next generation gives everyone a clear
understanding of how they fit. It gives everyone an opportunity to express their concerns well in
advance of the rubber meeting the road. And as important as that is for the family, it’s just as critical for
the business. A planned structure ensures that the right children are in the right seats on the bus.
Rather than deferring to the oldest child or the most vocal one, a proactively developed structure
ensures that the business can function at its highest level as well.
UNI’s Family Business Forum is designed to help families share what works and what to avoid during
generational transitions. We highlight firms who have made these transitions and allow them to share
their experiences in a confidential, trusting environment with their peer Iowa family business owners. I
invite to learn more about us and check out how you can plug in to this network of your peers.
Dan Beenken is the Director of the UNI Family Business Forum. Please contact him at