John Fast really touched a nerve in the farming community when he talked about family dynamics and succession planning on Nov. 23.

Dr. John Fast really touched a nerve in the farming community when he talked about family relationships and business succession on Nov. 23. at the Old Orchard Inn.

Family-owned enterprises have some competitive advantages over other forms of business ownership.

These include loyalty, deep pride, and dogged determination in times of struggle, when some other businesses might cash it in. In some cases, family members also supply low-cost labour.

On the other hand, the family-owned enterprise must deal with the peculiar personal relationships not found in other business arrangements. Those complex human dynamics can derail family-owned enterprises in the passage from one generation to the next.

Recently, family enterprises in the Valley received some guidance to help them walk through the process of planning for business succession.

Expert adviser Dr. John Fast spoke to a large audience of more than 100 people on Nov. 23 at the Old Orchard Inn in Greenwich. The evening event was co-hosted by the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Valley REN.

John has been a family counsellor, educator and entrepreneur and he was the founding executive director of the Centre for Family Business in Waterloo, Ontario.

He described how human nature and feelings can get mixed up with business decisions. If families can’t talk their way through the process, transferring ownership and management of a family business can become difficult.

John’s main message was to start building healthy family habits now. In an ideal world, he said, business owners in family enterprises should begin to plan for succession when they are in their 30’s. But since early succession planning is the exception, rather than the rule, his pragmatic advice was simply to start now, whatever your age.

Knowing how hard it can be to begin, John encouraged the local business community to recognize that going through the process can be painful and time-consuming. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s worth doing it right, he said.

The family, the business, and the wider community all benefit from the long-term success of family-owned enterprises.