In more and more family businesses, the children are succeeding the post-war generation and a new generation is taking over. This new generation has a different mindset than the older generation and has grown up in a different time, often more digital and with a different attitude to life and “work-life balance”.
The older generation sometimes has more concerns about the future and the associated risks than the new generation. These risks – whether or not due to previous experiences – are then assessed as great. As a result, the old generation sometimes tends to rely more on existing patterns and on how things have gone in the past. In other words, they may be more risk-averse. This can bite with a desire for innovation from new generations of the family business.
The dynamic between innovating change and still managing risk well is a difficult dilemma. Questions that come up are: What do we stand for as a company and as a family? Do we dare to use the innovative power of the next generation? How do we deal with the desire for sustainability in society and at the family business. (Source: Family Business Dinner 2022 / DekuyperConcepts / CliftonFinance / Wintertaling)
Renewal is a must
Especially after a period with the focus on the global pandemic, there is currently a lot of focus on renewal within the family business.
This renewal is often not only focused on the technical innovations of the company and production. It can also focus on a new market approach , a new form of communication or the loyalty of staff and end customers. Sustainability also plays an important role here for many companies.
A global survey in 2022 by PWC shows that sustainability does have attention, but that innovation in a broad sense is even more important for family businesses. The survey revealed that 44% of family businesses are engaged in innovation while “only” 28% of family businesses worldwide are engaged in sustainability. In the Netherlands, the focus on sustainability could be even higher and innovation is also often combined with increased attention to sustainability.
From our own practice, we know that in the Netherlands sustainability is taken seriously at Dutch family businesses. In fact, family businesses are less guided by external factors such as subsidies and legislation. The desire to invest sustainably stems from the fact that family businesses feel more responsible for the future generation, according to a study by RSM and Nyenrode Business University. This focus on sustainability stems from a sense of duty, according to Roberto Flören of Nyenrode University.
A changing of the guard actually offers opportunities
The younger generation will often look differently at issues such as renewal and innovation. New projects aimed at innovation and sustainability can be well supported by the younger generation of the family. This gets them involved in the family business on a subject in which they themselves are interested and can also make a difference.
The FD of April 25, 2022 discusses the contradictions between old and new generation when it comes to sustainability and innovation. ‘ Especially the importance attached to sustainability often creates conflicts with the older generation’. ‘The older generation represented by the pater familias often determines what happens, for better or worse,’ it reads.
We do not recognize this situation so strongly. With many families, the sustainability agenda is actually an opportunity to involve the younger generation and give their input a face. Many innovations put sustainability first and kill two birds with one stone. A study by the Landelijk Expertisecentrum Familiebedrijven (LEF) shows that family businesses actually score well on innovation. (Opportunities and bottlenecks in the family business 2020; Ilse Matser and Judith van Helvert). The younger generation will also catch on to innovation and sustainability. They are aware that addressing these issues will help influence their future and that of their children. They are also willing to make sacrifices when it comes to financial constraints or luxuries, or travel restrictions. This is caused by a greater awareness and willingness to start with yourself.
Generation Z and future prospects
We do understand that this effect will only become more evident over time. After all, it is precisely generation Z – the people in their twenties and thirties – who attach great importance to sustainability, and this generation does not yet really have a say in the board rooms of Dutch family businesses. Presumably, over a 10-year period, their influence will be greater and the effects of the sustainability calendar and innovations will be explicitly reflected in the policies of family businesses. In any case, this is a good future perspective that is so important especially for the younger generation.