How to Mind Your Own (Family) Business

family-business-working-momWorking wives and moms have enough on their plates. As all of us can attest to, balancing family, faith, and our careers is hard work that takes constant effort. What happens when you blend family and career together?

We asked that question to Christin McClave, founder of Unifi Coaching. She grew up in a family business, before branching out on her own adventure after college and finding her sweet spot in family business management. According to Christin, blending family and business isn’t always as easy as you might think, but it can definitely have it’s rewards.


4word: What made you interested in family business management?

Christin: Usually in a family business, you grow up in the business and then end up owning it over time. You don’t really say “I’d like to manage this.” I started working in family business at age 12, until age 20. When I graduated college, I told myself I needed to do something else besides auto parts.

That’s when I started working for Johnson and Johnson. I was in the women’s leadership program. I worked for them in various management positions including technology and marketing.

A few years later, my husband and I moved to Belgium to manage a business that the family had purchased. Therefore, I had to leave Johnson and Johnson at that time. We were in Belgium for 6 years, then moved back to the United States with two kids and one on the way.

I never wanted to be involved in a family business long-term. My family business consulting evolved due to my need to be connected to family-run businesses, but not necessarily in the traditional sense. I didn’t want to be directly involved in operating our family business. Two years ago, as my parents began looking towards retirement, I was elected to the board of our family business which is a great strategic fit for me.

I feel like God put me in my family business for a reason, and there are so many wonderful things about it. It was started by my grandparents based on Christian values to which we have held. In fact, we’ve become a benchmark for other businesses on how to operate ethically.  

When I began my consulting practice, I coached all different types of people from different industries. I felt a great resonance with family business clients because of my own experience. I discovered the sweet spot of coaching and consulting is to help bridge the generation gaps within a family business. I bring a youthful voice to the consulting process so I can connect with the next generation in family businesses. Many families feel their only choice is to sell the business when the senior generation retires, but I have a passion for developing leaders in the younger generations so they can keep the family business going.   

4word: Are there challenges unique to family business management?

Christin: In a family business, when you come home for vacation, you still hear about business. Consultants say to separate life and business to make things work better, but that’s nearly impossible. Business is a part of your life, whether you like it or not.

The issue of not being able to separate family and business can be very difficult for some people. Some are wired for it, others are not. You need to be creative and make sure you have time for yourself, time with your spouse and kids…and not allow the business to take over your entire life.

The positive side is that you have flexibility. For example, my son’s birthday is the night of an upcoming board meeting and dinner. I can bring him to the dinner or I can choose to stay home. In a public company, I couldn’t say no to the meeting. It’s in the board’s best interest that our family’s relationships stay strong, so it’s okay for me to miss the meeting.

When you have discord and dysfunction in the family, it spills into the business, and people lose trust. It easily destroys the business.

Another challenge is next generation leadership. When public companies are ready to move on to new leadership, they just bring in someone new. In family business, you start developing the leadership succession process at a very young age. It is a long process.

In the third generation, there is an 80% chance of the business failing and not moving into the fourth generation. This is due to poor succession planning, market pressures, business not changing over time, etc.

The biggest challenges are maintaining the family relationships- keeping them healthy to keep the business healthy.

4word: When it comes to family and business overlapping, what steps can family members take to preserve/strengthen their relationships?

Christin: The wonderful thing about family business is having more time with family and more flexibility with your career and life. You still put in many hours, but you can choose the flexibility of your schedule. It’s been a good path for me as a woman.

Families can and should have regular meetings that are not about business operations. They need to ask questions like, “How are we, as a family group, doing overseeing the business?” “How are we as a family, and how are we as a business?”  

It is so important to make sure that the family is spending time on relationships, having fun together, and taking separate time, like vacation, where business is not the main topic.

My family has regular family meetings. We also have monthly coaching phone calls with a relationship coach who can help us find issues to be dealt with or any challenges we are facing. She helps facilitate conversation and dialogue between us.

4word: How do you keep business from overlapping every area of your lives? How do you make time for just family?

Christin: It’s hard. We have to spend individual time with our own kids and make sure we take vacation with just our family, not the extended family. We have to guard our time as a nuclear family.

Something that keeps me sane is taking care of my own health by exercising. We spend wonderful time together through our kid’s activities, going to dinner, and taking special outings that help bring us together.

4word: The questions every 4word woman is asking….How do you do it all? How do you make faith, family, and work fit together?

Christin: I think growing up in our faith-based family business, it was all integrated for us. We never separated it out. It was very natural that they were all interconnected. For me, the hardest thing is juggling everything and switching gears, because I’m on multiple boards and involved in multiple businesses.

 It comes down to making personal time with God where I center everything I’m doing that day. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes it’s 20. I make sure I’m saying “yes” to the important things and “no” to other things. It is really difficult for women to do, but it’s important to practice. We need to learn to say “yes” to the important things that we value and are committed to. Re-evaluate what you are committed to so you can make more time for the things that are important to you. 

 I need that centering time. If I don’t have that moment in the morning, the day is chaotic and out of balance. I try to make all my decisions- work, family, time, etc. – through the lens of asking God what he wants me to spend my time on. What passions has he given me? When I lose energy, or feel overwhelmed and stressed, it’s clear that something’s out of priority.

There’s also a constant reshuffling. There are different challenges with different seasons of life. As your kids grow up, priorities will change over time. You have to be listening to the Lord to find the most important place to focus your energy. 


How does your family influence your work? Does your work influence your family? Let us know in the comments!

Christin McClave is the founder of Unifi Coaching and a certified co-active leadership coach. She works with leadership, teams and families in business together to assist them in executing their values. She speaks and coaches about developing Next Generation Leadership, On Board, and Family Governance Issues.