Family Business Director

Corporate Finance & Planning Insights for Multi-Generational Family Businesses


Shareholder Engagement

Dividend Policy Planning & Strategy

Double Down or Cash Out: The Reinvestment or Distribution Decision

I recently got back from the AICPA’s Forensic and Valuation Services conference in Las Vegas.  While I came back richer in experience and CPE credit, the green felt of the blackjack table was less kind to my wallet. Matching your family shareholders’ growth objectives with their relative risk tolerance is a key directive for family business directors and one that is tied directly to what your family business means to you.  We highlight two corollary questions relating to growth, risk, and business meaning: investing decisions and distribution policy.

Planning & Strategy

Stock Buybacks and Family Businesses

Stock buybacks were in the news last week as the newly-passed Inflation Reduction Act includes a provision levying a 1% excise tax on share repurchases by public companies. As we’ve noted in previous posts, we question Congress’s grasp of the basic economics of a stock buyback, but Congress is not our focus today. 

Privately held family businesses are exempt from the tax, but directors need to understand the real economics of stock buybacks (or, in the case of family businesses, shareholder redemptions).

Shareholder Liquidity

Is Redemption a Four-Letter Word?

As recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, large public companies are announcing share repurchase programs at a record pace.  Like many issues, what is straightforward for public companies becomes a bit more complicated for family businesses.  Two factors in particular increase the degree of difficulty for family businesses.  First, the motivation for redemptions can be complicated by personal relationships.  Second, price is not a given as it is for public companies. We discuss both of these in this week’s post.

Capital Structure

Breaking Up Is(n’t) Hard to Do

Kicking off with the inspired lyrics, “Down dooby doo down down,” Neil Sedaka assured legions of teenage girls in 1962 that “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”  Sixty years later, the actions of the Follett family are telling family business directors that maybe breaking up is not so hard after all. In this week’s post, we explore the question “Why do different businesses sometimes need different owners?” by examining the Follet family’s recent sale of each of its three operating divisions to a different buyer.

M&A Special Topics

Family Business Purpose and Transactions

In this post, we offer a unique perspective from Atticus Frank, CFA who worked in his family’s business for nearly three years prior to returning to Mercer Capital and joining the team’s Family Business Advisory Group. This post focuses on the wisdom, or lack thereof, of transactions. M&A decisions shouldn’t be undertaken without understanding the meaning of the family business to the family (Is the family business a growth engine, a store of value, a wealth accumulation vehicle, or a lifestyle vehicle). Atticus tackles the topic with a story about his family business.

Special Topics Valuation

The Economics of Family Shareholder Redemptions

Regardless of the reason, significant shareholder redemptions are among the least understood corporate transactions.  In this week’s post, we consider the economics of family shareholder redemptions from three perspectives: the selling shareholder, the family business, and the remaining shareholders.

Planning & Strategy

How to Communicate Risk to Family Shareholders

Communicating risk effectively is a challenge for all companies.  Making too much of the risk can alienate customers and erode the credibility that might be critical when a threat actually materializes.  On the other hand, insufficient risk disclosure can result in liability that threatens the company’s existence.  A recent article in the Harvard Business Review addressed this challenge in customer communications.  The authors of “The Art of Communicating Risk” offer three suggestions for communicating risk to customers more effectively.  In this post, we will review those suggestions, and think about how they might apply to communicating risk to family shareholders.

What Should Your Family Shareholders Know?

When it comes to financial matters, family business directors need to treat family shareholders as, well, shareholders.  One of the ironies of family business is the generally unspoken assumption that family shareholders are not entitled to adequate financial disclosure and transparency.  In other words, family shareholders are often entrusted with far less information than stockholders in public companies.  Whatever benefits such secrecy generates are very quickly overwhelmed by the suspicion, distrust, and discontent that naturally develops when communication fails. Positive engagement is enhanced when family shareholders receive regular communication under five primary headings which are discussed in this week’s post.

How to Communicate Financial Results to Family Shareholders (Part 3)

This week, we conclude our series of posts on communicating financial results to family shareholders. Having focused on telling the story of the family business through the balance sheet and income statement, we turn our attention this week to the statement of cash flows.

How to Communicate Financial Results to Family Shareholders (Part 2)

Everyone agrees that communication promotes positive shareholder engagement, but what does it look like to communicate financial results effectively?  In this series of posts, we offer practical suggestions for presenting key financial data in ways that family shareholders find useful.  In the last post, we focused on the balance sheet; this week, we turn our attention to the income statement.

How to Communicate Financial Results to Family Shareholders (Part 1)

Everyone agrees that communication promotes positive shareholder engagement, but what does it look like to communicate financial results effectively?  In this series of posts, we offer practical suggestions for presenting key financial data in ways that family shareholders find useful.  We start in this post with the balance sheet.

5 Reasons to Conduct a Shareholder Survey

An engaged and informed shareholder base is essential for the long-term health and success of any private company, and a periodic shareholder survey is a great tool for achieving that result. This week’s post includes a list of five good reasons for conducting a survey of your shareholders.

Buying Off the Discount Rack?

Recent headlines around publicly-traded family business Nordstrom, Inc. illustrate the challenges family business directors face when making hard decisions about family management, stock ownership, and whether to sell the family business. In this post, we take a closer look at where Nordstrom finds itself, and the range of options available to the directors for moving forward.

Innovation and Family Wealth

Recently published academic research from Vasiliki Kosmidou and Manju K. Ahuja highlights the relationship between innovation and family wealth. Our goal in this post is to introduce some of the authors’ most relevant findings to family business directors, translating, as we do, into a less academic idiom.

A Guide to Corporate Finance Fundamentals

Part 1 | Finance Basics: Return & Risk

This post is the first of four installments from our Corporate Finance in 30 Minutes whitepaper. We begin with a brief overview of return and risk, the two basic building blocks of corporate finance.

Tailoring Financial Decisions to the Meaning of Your Family Business

In a previous post, we identified the four basic economic meanings that a family business can have. For some families, the business is an economic growth engine for future generations. For others, the family business is a store of value. Alternatively, the family business can be a source of wealth accumulation or a source of lifestyle for family members.

As noted, there are certain family and business characteristics that can help family members discern what meaning “fits” their circumstances best. The meaning of the family business, in turn, has implications for the dividend policy, reinvestment, and financing decisions for the family business. In this post, we examine how the meaning of the family business influences these corporate finance decisions.

Case Study: Second-Generation Shareholders Achieve Long-Term Sustainability

This case study summarizes a recent engagement in which we helped second-generation shareholders balance two objectives in setting up a dividend policy. They desired a dividend policy that would enable each shareholder to set aside a significant nest egg of liquidity independent of his or her ownership of the Company while also being reasonable for the company, given the development of outside management and the need for and opportunities for the Company to grow.

Investor Relations for Family Businesses

An Informed and Engaged Shareholder Base is a Strategic Advantage

Family Business Director was in sunny Tampa last week at the spring edition of the Transitions Conference produced by Family Business Magazine. The sessions offered fresh insights on perennial challenges around succession planning, conflict management, and communication.  But the recurring – if not underlying – theme that impressed us was the challenge of shareholder engagement. 

What Does Your Family Business Mean to Your Family?

The meaning of a family business is a function of both family and business characteristics. In turn, it influences the dividend policy, investing, and financing decisions of the company. In this week’s post, we will identify the four potential meanings and correlate family & business characteristics with those meanings.

The Financial Costs of Family Members Behaving Badly

The ongoing drama surrounding the behavior of Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has been a mainstay of the financial press over the past fifteen months. So what is the takeaway for family business directors from the Papa John’s saga? The most important lesson is this: the bad actions of family shareholders can have significant financial repercussions for the family business, and by extension, all the family shareholders.

Preventing, or At Least De-Escalating, Family Feuds

The biggest threat to the sustainability of your family business may not come from competition or evolving technologies.  It may come from the family itself.  As a family business director, you should be attuned to this risk and take the steps necessary to help prevent, or at least de-escalate such situations. In this week’s post, we suggest a few paths forward.

How to Constructively Engage with a Dissatisfied Family Shareholder

The authors of a 2018 article on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation identify three components of an effective response by public companies to activist investors.  We think the recommendations translate well to family business boards dealing with one or more disgruntled family shareholders.

Capital Budgeting Capital Structure Dividend Policy M&A Performance Measurement Taxes

What Keeps Family Business Directors Awake at Night?

Stewarding a multi-generation family business is a privilege that comes with certain responsibilities, and each family business faces a unique set of challenges at any given time.  For some, shareholder engagement is not currently an issue, but establishing a workable management accountability program is.  For others, dividend policy is easy, while next gen development weighs heavily. Through our family business advisory services practice, we work with successful families facing issues like these every day.

Consulting Services

Family Business Advisory Services

Mercer Capital provides financial education services and other strategic financial consulting to family businesses