24/08/2015 - 16:44

Family businesses branching out

24/08/2015 - 16:44

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Almost three-quarters of Australian businesses are family owned, but despite their private nature, many are seeking professional advice on improving their operations.

SHARING: Lorraine Willis and Grahame Marshall at the Family Business Australia event. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Almost three-quarters of Australian businesses are family owned, but despite their private nature, many are seeking professional advice on improving their operations. 

Family business leaders are increasingly welcoming advice from the corporate and not-for-profit sectors, according to Family Business Australia.

The peak body’s state manager, Lorraine Willis, said educational sessions for its 250 local members featuring bosses from non-family business backgrounds were growing in popularity.

Ms Willis told Business News recent events, including a forum with the Royal Flying Doctor Service chief executive officer Grahame Marshall, had highlighted to members that businesses across the spectrum faced similar challenges in an increasingly globalised market.

Ms Willis said family businesses made up 73 per cent of companies in Australia; and while their owners were keen to learn from their peers, many guarded their operations quite closely.

“Because family businesses are largely privately listed, there’s no information that sits in one database. Information is pretty light on the ground because often they’re very private companies,” she said.

Ms Willis said while FBA’s national membership of 2,500 businesses provided a useful network, there was a growing recognition family businesses could also learn from different organisations.

“The idea is that a CEO from any background can impart knowledge that will help a family business look at professionalism and sustainability,” she said.

“The learning process that can come from listening to the experience that someone like Grahame has (reinforces) that running a business takes effort; it takes strategic thinking, planning, policies and processes, as well as culture and the importance of looking at key drivers.

“Regardless of the industry you’re in ... your challenges are very similar.

“It’s important to meet people around you who are going through the same sort of things (because) there’s a comfort that comes from knowing you’re not the only person tackling these changes.”

Mr Marshall said he recognised the challenges facing those who ran family businesses, as the RFDS was going through significant changes of its own.

“Family businesses these days often have different aspirations from those of the original founders,” he said.

“This is similar to the RFDS, which has for many years operated traditionally in a certain way.”

Mr Marshall said in the case of the RFDS, he had used his experience from previously working in the banking and legal sectors to guide changes.

“The RFDS is rapidly approaching a $90 million per annum business and is continuing to adopt a more commercially focused business model, as opposed to a typical not-for-profit organisation.”

 

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