With father, son and daughter all working together, the three leaders of Caton Commercial Real Estate Group in Naperville sometimes feel like they need a referee.
They found one by hiring a business coach, but they're soon to get more help from their peers through the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber in February plans to launch a Family Business Roundtable, which will cater to a subset of business owners who share a bloodline. The roundtable will connect family business operators with experts to address the challenges of working in the family tree, and with peers who've shared those experiences. "It's a unique perspective to have to balance that, the family and the business," said Christina Caton Kitchel, director of leasing and principal of the business started by her father, Bill Caton. "There are a lot of obstacles when it comes to family."
The roundtable plans to address common obstacles such as role definition, conflict management and succession planning, said Nicki Anderson, the chamber's president and CEO, who is herself a family businesswoman.
Anderson said these business planning tasks can play out differently when the boss also goes by "mom." And when businesses can't agree on plans for who does what or how long uncle Joe stays in charge, tension can grow.
"When you know what's going to happen, you can start setting the stage for that and gradually make that transition," Anderson said. "When you don't know, people get less engaged and frustrated."
Anderson, who grew up in the Oswald's Pharmacy family business in Naperville -- now run by two of her sons who are sixth-generation owners -- said she started talking with 24 family business members of the chamber about forming the roundtable a year ago.
With several established shops operated by families, such as Russell Martin Carpets, Klein Hall CPAs and Great Western Flooring, Anderson knew there was a need to provide guidance.
"We're very fortunate that we have so many family-owned businesses that are still operating successfully here in Naperville," Anderson said. "The value and the importance of having those family businesses in town has never waned."
Caton Commercial Real Estate Group has succeeded as a family business first because of the founder's work ethic, Caton Kitchel said. She called her father a "born workaholic" and said she and her brother, Steve Caton, have widely differing professional personalities that complement each other.
"Every day is fun," she said. "We're definitely a little goofy here. It translates through the culture."
The business now wants advice for succession planning and hopes to get it by hearing the experiences of other family enterprises when the roundtable forms.
Anderson said the roundtable will include up to a dozen participants. If more are interested, two roundtables will form. The group or groups will meet regularly and follow an agenda to discuss scheduled topics and hear from speakers.