Culture in Family Business

Maryanne Guido serves as CEO of Guido & Companies, a fourth generation family business since its founding in 1927. Headquartered in the 7th largest US city, San Antonio, Texas, the company began with the construction of St. Francis De Paola Church & Parish in downtown San Antonio, which is on the National Historic Registry. 

Over the years, Guido has completed multiple landmark projects throughout San Antonio including Hemisfair 1968 (the official World’s Fair), restoration of the Spanish Missions, Freeman Coliseum, HEB Science Treehouse at Witte Museum, multiple projects at Sea World San Antonio, and most recently construction of the new DoSeum Children’s Museum. 

Maryanne joined the family business back in 1990 to assist with various business operations and management and was appointed CEO in 2005. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a BS in Mathematics and Economics and minor in Statistics. 

We spoke to Maryanne about the importance of culture and communication in family businesses. 

RESEARCH SHOWS ONLY 12 PERCENT OF FAMILY BUSINESSES MAKE IT TO THE THIRD GENERATION. WHAT HAS ENABLED YOU TO PASS ON TO FOUR? 

When joining the business 25 years ago, one thing I was really interested in was the dynamics of how things worked. In the first two generations, the business was a labour of love and very entrepreneurial. As the company ‘grew up’, there were a few things we realised we needed to do: 

1 - Everyone had great technical skills, but nobody thought to really develop the soft skills around leadership and communication. We’ve placed a lot of emphasis on this in recent years – creating a clear unified vision and helping managers understand why people want to follow you or not. 

2 - Stemming on from that, we have refreshed our story and reinvented ourselves. Whilst some things remained unchanged in terms of our core values over the generations, one thing that’s been key for us is redefining and re-prioritising our values. As the company grew, we realized that objective input would be critical to future success.

3 – Our team has worked to create clearer accountability to each other and employees, and hold ourselves to same the standards and higher. This has been really important in helping to navigate conflict or challenging situations (which can exist in any business – family or not). Business can’t be for the benefit of the family, it has to be for the benefit of the business.

IN TERMS OF REINVENTING THE BUSINESS, HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT THIS? 

We basically got together a group of those interested and those perceived as possible future leaders to review our core values. We looked at what made sense for our company, at this point in time, and what would help carry us forward. We kept many of the same core values, but we refreshed them to what is relevant to our people today, and we re-prioritised them. Establishing this gave everyone a sense of clear purpose and commitment.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER CULTURAL INVESTMENTS YOU'VE MADE OVER THE YEARS WHICH YOU THINK HAVE REALLY PAID OFF? 

First, we have promoted continual education and mentoring opportunities. 
If there is a course an employee wants to take in order to develop their skill set aligned with our company vision and values, we try to support it. We have also invested in opportunities for people around the business to champion different initiatives to give that greater sense of purpose. Finally, we’ve offered various cross-mentoring opportunities, partnering some of our less experienced team with more experienced team – you can’t teach wisdom, it’s something you gain over time by the experiences you have. Through these things, we’ve made our culture richer, given both our people and the business have invested time and energy in the future. 

We’ve placed a big focus on the team: ‘united we stand, divided we fall’. 
In support of this, we made the decision to not bonus based on job performance, but rather on company performance. We wanted to encourage the behaviour that everyone is called to action if there is a problem. And, at regular staff meetings, we celebrate the successes of the team. Creating that culture of commitment has been key for everyone. 
 
We have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously all the time. 
We’ve done things such as given out funny awards, monthly BBQs, mini golf tournaments, holiday parties, etc. These are things everyone looks forward to and help to build camaraderie.

Finally, I would add that we are not afraid to recognise something is broken and fix it. We are also not afraid to find people doing it well and emulate it. I’m a big believer in best practices and ‘why create mediocrity when you can copy genius?’. 

HOW IMPORTANT IS COMMUNICATION IN WORKING IN A FAMILY BUSINESS? 

Communication is at the heart of things when working with family. We don’t want the business to destroy our family relationships, but you can easily fall back into the familiarity of family and your communication style can unravel. I’m reminded of the adage, ‘treat your family like friends and friends like family’. If you were “regular” colleagues you wouldn’t do it the same way, so afford your family the same courtesy that you would a friend, and don’t take advantage. 

It’s important to understand each other’s communication style and how people listen. Listen respectfully, and come to a consensus. Also, I believe its important to create boundaries. For example, we’ve made some commitments to each other like that we don't talk about work in social situations or when tired. 

HOW DO YOU MIX FAMILY AND BUSINESS?

When I am at the office, I am very focused on the business, so we are very explicit about when we need to ‘wear a different hat’ or draw lines. So, if you need to have a conversation with me as your mother or with a sibling as a sibling, etc – communicate that, so we change context. Similarly, there are times when we gather as a family and commit to keeping work conversations "off limits". I think it’s important to make that separation mentally and emotionally. 

We’ve also done some personality testing which is helpful in understanding how you can work together in a healthy way, knowing you have your differences.

HOW HAVE YOU STARTED TO PREPARE FOR FAMILY MEMBERS WHO WANT TO JOIN THE BUSINESS?

We’ve said to all of the family, if you don’t have something to sell that the business wants to buy, then do not apply. Instead, we’ve encouraged them to go do something else, before they come here so they have a value on the market. So, take some time and get some experience if this is really what you want to do. Everybody also has to work up through the ranks to understand the business. If he/she aspires to be a leader, then we support building leadership skills. The other big thing we emphasise is accountability, you don’t get a pass card because you are family. 

In years past, family businesses were almost seen as substandard to other businesses. I think that paradigm has shifted. People understand that in a family business, the owners really care what happens, your name and your reputation is 100% at stake. We want all of our customers to have the same great experience, and work hard to ensure that. 

Legacy and succession are really important.