Training for the Big Win: How Athletes and Family Businesses Need to Train for Success

Posting by Joel C. Susco, CPA, Principal

I was at lunch recently and the topic came up on the similarities between business owners and athletes.  After some time on the topic, we were quite amazed at just how similar they truly are, especially when considering a family business.

Both commit countless hours over many years, striving for the ultimate goal, pushing their hearts, minds and bodies far beyond their comfort level.  Both have the inner desire to achieve excellence, sometimes facing odds that may be stacked against them.  There is an external achievement on the line (e.g., professional success), but also an inner one, that is unique to the athlete or family business owner.  Their own self, their name, is on the line – any success or failure can be attributed in part directly to them.

Thinking and Planning as a Business

To achieve this level of excellence, the athlete and family business owner must not only have the inner desire; they must do those things most successful “companies” must do.  These include: develop a game plan; pay attention to details; and rely on and work with all the stakeholders and team members involved.  For an athlete, the stakeholders may include trainers, coaches, team owners, teammates, and family members who sacrifice for the training and schedule of the athlete.  For the family business owner, this support may include other members of management, Board of Directors, others part-owners, employees, the family members who work there, and those who also sacrifice or work around the needs and time commitment of the business owner.

Although the initial gift, or entrepreneurial idea, may emerge from the athlete or family business owner, for success to be a possibility, the other stakeholders may need to push, help with focus, assist in marketing the “commodity” and help determine the direction of the “business.”  For an athlete, a coach may realize that a runner’s talent would be better utilized in marathon distance races instead of 10Ks; the family business owner’s child, who may be the successor of the family business, may see the need to modernize the company’s approach to be more current.

The Work Behind the Work

Athletes must invest in their bodies, examine and evaluate the competition, and possibly develop a special skill that allows them to score an advantage over their competitors.   As a business owner, one must invest in their business, evaluate their competitors and develop a niche that sets them a part from others in “the business.”  The family business “body” can actually be considered the family itself, so it must be taken care of and nurtured, as the athlete’s body needs to receive the best input to yield the best output.

The inner resilience an athlete develops to not only achieve the physical goal, but to overcome the mental hurdles, is not unlike the way the family in a business needs to work together during the tough times, knowing that the business may  not always meet financial goals.  The gold medal, or the ranking as #1 Family Restaurant in the local paper, represent not just a singular goal, but rather all the hard work unseen from the outside that came before.

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