From the main Highway 29, which is to the west, rows of vines stretch eastward like green corduroy, a seemingly endless linear vision quest. Here, on this 400-acre parcel in the heart of the Oak Knoll growing area, sits one of the oldest and most successful family-owned and family-run businesses in the region. Trefethen was a family operation from the very beginning. In the early 1970s, John Trefethen’s parents, Eugene and Catherine Trefethen, passed the winery along to John and his wife, Janet, who ran it for more than three decades and grew the small-but-mighty business into a local powerhouse with national distribution and a penchant for customer service.  Fast-forward to recent years, when John and Janet repeated history and passed the business down to their children: 34-year-old Hailey and 38-year-old Lorenzo. Today, the duo is poised to build on the family legacy and take the company into the next decade and beyond.  Along this multigenerational journey, the Trefethens have stayed true to one thing: Each other.
“One thing we’ve always done a good job with around here is keeping everything about the family,” says Hailey. “Yes, we’re running a business. But we’re also running a family. The two can coexist.”                              Family Business Magazine, Published July 21, 2021 Matt Villano

Family Businesses. While they have all the opportunities and challenges of any organization, they also have the added benefits and liabilities of their unique family dynamics. Those families who successfully navigate passing the baton from one generation to the next share some common practices. Based on my observations and feedback from clients, the following are key to ensuring that both the business and the family can thrive for years to come.

  1. The perspective needed to ensure successful transition to the next generation:
    • Being grounded in history –understanding of the family’s history, values, traditions, and business origin(s)
    • Being willing to move to the future – having a passion and openness to moving the family business into the future
    • Being open to doing things differently – willing to try other ways, take risks and learn new things
  2. The importance of building an intentional culture:
    • Articulating a clear WHY, defining purpose and getting aligned on why the business exists
    • Defining the values and supporting behaviors in service of the strategy and the desired culture of the organization
    • Mentoring the future generations
    –Training – teaching the business to the next generation
     — Delegating – sharing tasks and responsibilities, providing direction and support, and creating an environment where one can learn from mistakes
     — Promoting family ownership for the future success of the business
  3. The willingness to make investments in business strategy and organizational development:
    • Developing a strategic plan
    • Prioritizing goals and objectives – creating a timeline, committing to tasks and following through
    • Evaluating gaps and providing the necessary training for family members in the business to meet those gaps
    • Hiring people outside the family when necessary to fill positions critical for success
  4. The commitment to develop strong relationships within and across generations:
    • Making time for meaningful connection
    — Creating shared experiences
     — Working together on the business side and the family side; paying attention to both to be successful
    • Creating space for meaningful conversations
     — Coming to conversations with positive intent and a willingness to hear others’ perspectives
     — Allowing for honest and authentic communication
     — Extending grace when the conversations get tough or messy
     — Learning about different personality styles and how to effectively communicate
    • Sharing cross generational knowledge, learning, ideas

Finally, according to the clients I spoke with for this blog, what makes these practices most effective is the positive impact of working with a facilitator from outside the family unit. Having professionals familiar with family business who bring credibility, objectivity, resources, and skillful facilitation is key to a successful outcome.  Even the most committed, cohesive and connected families can find themselves in situations where they need another perspective. A good family business facilitator can help the family business by accessing the family’s collective wisdom to uncover a clear path forward.



Carla Ruiz

Carla Ruiz

Carla’s mission is to fuel growth and development by affirming strengths, challenging beliefs, and igniting potential through Values Based Leadership. She presents, facilitates, and coaches in a variety of leadership programs and with companies intentional about strengthening their culture. In her role as a Leadership Development Coach, she is passionate about increasing emotional intelligence, which she believes is the cornerstone of effective leadership.

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