Canada: A Healthy Family Business: Effective Governance And Strong Communication Keys To Success

Last Updated: March 30 2011
Article by Sharon Duguid

There is a lot at stake in a family business: the viability and success of the business itself and livelihood of the family; the health of relationships within the family, and within the business; the estate and legacy that may be passed on to generations to come, or the selling off of assets for other investments. Ultimately, the vibrancy of the Canadian economy depends on family businesses. After all, many of the country's most successful companies began as family businesses that have thrived through the generations.

Success and longevity, however, do not happen by chance—and in fact, most family businesses do not survive past the second generation. To succeed in the long run, a family business needs effective governance coupled with good communication that can address any complex relationships within the family and between the family and its business. As well, good governance and communication are vital to establishing a strong foundation for the generations that potentially may inherit the family business, and take it to new levels.

"If the business is at the stage of just mom and dad and two kids, or two sisters, it might start off with an informal meeting over dinner, consciously putting on the business hat as an owner or family member, and discussing the business, or having a conversation about the areas of the business that may impact thefamily and vice versa," says Sharon Duguid, director, Centre for Family Business and Entrepreneurs, PwC. "But as the business grows and the family grows, it becomes important that those meetings take on a bit more formality and structure so that the needs and values of the family are reflected in the business."

This is where good governance in the form of a family council comes in. A family council brings together family members to regularly discuss issues related to their relationship with the business. When structured well with guidelines and protocols that can handle everything from communication to conflict resolution to succession effectively and smoothly, family councils can play a critical role in ensuring the health of both the business and the family relationships. "As a family business reaches a certain size, then it may also start to take into consideration issues such as its social commitment, its role or impact in the community," says Duguid. "The family can use the council asa forum to discuss how they want to present themselves through the business to the community or the media, and what values they want themselves associated with."

Take note, family councils are not simply for businesses in which family members are actively involved in the day-to-day running of operations. Regular family council meetings help all family shareholders remain informed of what's happening in the business. An effective council ensures that there are no sudden surprises, or unplanned leadership changes, or conflict that only come out in a time of crisis. Even for families that have chosen to leave the running of the business entirely in the hands of management, family councils are a critical way for the family to ensure its values and goals are respected and reflected. "For example, I know of a case where the family wanted its values to be reflected in the employee structure of the business—they wanted the employees to feel that they really came first," says Duguid.

Because that family had a council that elected a representative to sit on the company's board of directors, the family was able to voice its desires and those were addressed by the business. "Without a family council, the voice of the family and its values can be lost," says Duguid. "The council becomes more important as the business grows for many reasons. The formality of the family council helps the family know that they do have responsibilities as owners. The council ensures that they are part of the business, even if behind the scenes, it creates the possibility for the family to create one voice and one set of family values. The structure that a family council provides allows the family, a private, emotional body, to address the business, a rational, public body. As the business grows and the family grows, the family council becomes paramount to the success of the family health and welfare."

Creating a family council

  • Start with a family meeting to really look at the family's vision, its values and needs. Why are these important to you, and your family? How do you all want these reflected in the business? What needs to happen to ensure these don't get lost in the running of the business? How will you make decisions for healthy business growth and healthy family stability? How will you treat each other (code of conduct)? How will you manage disagreement as a family on business issues?
  • Set out very clear objectives and guidelines for each meeting. "Good facilitation at these early meetings is helpful to make sure all members are heard, to help understand how decisions get made, or conflict is managed so that no one is compromised," says Duguid. "A professional facilitator with a solid understanding of the dynamics at play with a business family is a neutral third party, so they can help keep the discussions focused. They may ask some of the questions that the family may not know to ask and identify patterns of interaction that sometimes families can't see themselves. A facilitator can also help challenge the family to make sure they are adhering to identified values and goals. It is a best practice to have facilitation, for that non-biased support. The goal is to equip the family council with tools and skills and structures to 'self manage' effectively."
  • Keep in mind it's a long-term process. A good family council doesn't happen instantly. "This is something that needs to evolve and develop over time, and it will grow and evolve as the family and business does," says Duguid.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.