Dealing with Major Health Issues in the Family Business

An interview with Patricia Raymond, Ph.D.

(This article was originally published by Genus Resources LLC. Tom Davidow was a co-founder of Genus and its President for twenty years before launching Thomas D. Davidow & Associates.)

Every family fears its members might one day suffer from serious, debilitating health issues. When a senior family member of a Genus client is ailing, we call upon Patricia Raymond, Ph.D., a specialist in aging and serious illness, to consult with the Genus team, meet with the family, and provide the expertise necessary to bring stability, compassion, and solid information to an often frightening situation. Dr. Raymond’s insight into health concerns dreaded by every family and every family business was the subject of a recent interview.

--Emily Abrams, Editor

What kinds of illnesses and injuries are you apt to face in family businesses?

Dr. Raymond: They might be. . . stroke, any form of dementia, traumatic brain injury, brain tumor with resulting cognitive or emotional dysfunction, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, and Huntington's Disease. Problems with memory, significant emotional disturbances secondary to medical illnesses, or even subtle deficits that the person does not recognize can be threats to the solvency of the business and the survival of the family as a well-functioning social support system.

Can you elaborate on how "the solvency of the business and the survival of the family" can be threatened?

Dr. Raymond: Not only are family members beset with the task of getting the best possible care for their loved ones, they are also scrambling to fill the role left suddenly vacant in the business. To complicate matters, the victim may want to continue in a leadership role, unaware of the extent to which the trauma has caused impairment to make decisions, set priorities, make appropriate social judgments or manage financial issues. Emotions are ruling and can spell serious trouble for a business that has been held tightly by a creative, driven entrepreneur.

How do you interact with a Genus team?

Dr. Raymond: Bringing together expertise in family function, cognitive/ emotional disability and business leadership in a non-threatening supportive family meeting can assuage a great deal of anxiety and perhaps prevent business and family disasters in the wake of a health crisis. Together, we can carefully help the family sort out the entanglements of leadership transitions in a time of crisis.

What other business issues do you see emerging during health crises?

Dr. Raymond: These are times of great family business distress. The family itself is often in disarray. The usual roles are questioned, and everyone is seen as vying for the new position of power, even if intentions are driven by honest compassion and concern. Having trusted others there who have their best interest in mind can give the family an opportunity to talk freely about the most sacred and power. And of course, in family businesses, money is not only about who produced the most work, but also about who is loved most by the entrepreneurial head of the business and family. In short we are there with information, a whistle, a striped shirt, a modicum of common sense interspersed with compassion, expertise and a great deal of experience.