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Avoid conflict in your family business

'It took Cory and Lyndon about two years of financial struggle and hard work before the business started to change – but it has been for the better, and the company has continued to thrive ever since.'

Gary Kennedy, Kennedy Trailers.  (Photo courtesy of the Bairnsdale Advertiser).

Top tips

  • Work hard so you're taken seriously
  • Challenge old generation business models
  • Communicate to avoid sibling rivalry
  • Trust external advice

Kennedy Trailers was established by Garry Kennedy in Bairnsdale back in 1980. Since its humble beginnings as a husband-and-wife-based business, the company has grown to manage 30 staff across two factories, and build approximately 50 custom trailers per year.

The business is now managed by Garry’s two sons, Cory and Lyndon. But the transition in management wasn’t easy; Cory and Lyndon were forced to step into their roles at the tender ages of 19 and 20. Garry had suffered a non-fatal heart attack, and it suddenly became the boys’ responsibility to keep the business alive while Garry recovered in hospital.

It’s common knowledge that working with members of your own family can be difficult. And garnering the support of those around you to successfully run a profitable business can be a real challenge. Here, Cory shares with us his solutions to problems that commonly occur in the family-run business space.

Work hard to be taken seriously

Because Cory and Lyndon took over the business at such young ages, many staff members were critical of their efforts. In order to keep up morale, Cory and Lyndon had to prove how hardworking they were.

Cory says, 'when work needed to be done, we didn't point fingers. We just got the job done. We showed people we weren't afraid to stay back late, hang around at night or work on weekends. By putting yourself in the workshop just like one of them, people start treating you with respect.'

Challenge old-generation business models

When Cory and Lyndon took over the business, Cory says they 'flipped the business on its head'. This is because although Garry had set up a great business, it was 'a handshake type of business' – nothing was documented properly. Paperwork and analysing business performance was almost non-existent.

The boys recognised this needed to change. Cory says, 'Dad was really apprehensive. Although they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, Lyndon and I insisted we prove to Dad that we could get the job done and still enjoy a weekend.'

It took Cory and Lyndon about two years of financial struggle and hard work before the business started to change – but it has been for the better, and the company has continued to thrive ever since.

Communicate to avert sibling rivalry

Cory and Lyndon avoid conflict as co-workers by having their own clearly defined role (Lyndon takes care of the business from a financial perspective and Cory takes care of customers/suppliers). However, both still expect each other to know what’s going on with the business at all times.

Via regular meetings and constant chatter on a day-to-day basis, they communicate openly. Cory says, 'We always go to each other for help, and share thoughts on how things should be run.' This means there are no nasty surprises when things don’t go to plan.

Understand it’s give and take

It's easy to overreact or be blind-sighted when you're working with your own siblings. To avoid this from happening, Cory says you need to remember 'nothing’s ever even. Working together is all about give and take.' For example, Cory has a young family so it’s often Lyndon who stays back late when things need to get done. But Cory puts in the extra effort when he has the time.

In regards to making sure a family business doesn't conflict with their home life, his wisdom is clear: 'You do what’s right for the business when you're at work. Then when it’s time to go home, you don't take business with you.' Cory believes, 'If you need to sort something out, do it before you leave the factory floor.'

Trust external advice

Cory says that the market is more competitive than ever. As a result, Cory has appointed a chairman to act as an adviser. Bringing in an external party allows his family to hear a well-educated objective opinion, and keeps everyone’s egos out of the way.

The result

Cory and Lyndon have implemented new strategies in their family business.  They successfully took over from their father and now have 30 staff across two factories.