Influencing Policy Makers: Research on Family Firms Educating Lawmakers

This blog by Caroline McLean, president of Family Enterprise – USA (FEUSA), describes the results of several years of FEUSA’s efforts to educate lawmakers. A survey for family enterprise owners to complete is linked.

As professionals in the family enterprise field, we know that family businesses are the backbone of the world’s economy and the heart of communities around the globe.  But… how do we get leaders in government to realize the true impact of this segment of the economy?

As president of Family Enterprise USA, (FEUSA), I’d like to use this blog to share more about FEUSA and some of our research results from the last few years as well as inviting you to learn more about our current family firm study in the hope that it will prove useful to the global readership of The Practitioner.

Since 2011, Family Enterprise USA (FEUSA), a 501(C)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization with a primary purpose of advocating on behalf of America’s business-owning families, has conducted an annual survey to gauge perceptions of family enterprises and better understand the challenges and complexities these businesses face.  Using this data, FEUSA advocates for public policies that strengthen family businesses.

Some findings are in line with what a family enterprise advisor may anticipate; however, our experience shows that some of these facts are indeed “news” to lawmakers. Despite there being a total of 155 members of the U.S. House of Representatives (118 Republicans and 37 Democrats) and 37 U.S. Senators (23 Republicans and 14 Democrats) who have a connection to a family business according to publicly available data, the issues concerning family enterprise are largely unrepresented at a family enterprise policy level. Even with these links to family business, more work needs to be done to educate U.S. lawmakers regarding the contributions of family enterprise to our economy.

Some key points from our surveys that we have shared with US lawmakers each spring are below.

  • First, family businesses are not short-lived. According to the 2012 FEUSA study, 77% of US family businesses had been in business for 30 years or more and 58% had the same executive running the business for over 10 years (and 35% for over 20 years!).
  • Second, family businesses provide an important base of jobs to the US economy, with respondents indicating that job growth increased among 33% of the businesses in 2012 and among 54% of respondents to the 2013 survey.
  • Third, the 2013 survey showed that family-owned businesses remain optimistic about revenue growth, but continued economic uncertainty and public policy concerns are driving a reluctance to add to their workforce compared to the previous year.
  • Finally, family businesses are not just focused on the bottom line, but care for their communities. Nine out of ten family businesses (95%) engage in some level of philanthropy within their communities and beyond according to the 2011 FEUSA study.

We at FEUSA would be interested in learning more about public policy efforts domestically as well as around the world and hope you will respond to this blog with your own strategies.  As we look forward to the FFI conference in October in Washington, DC, sharing public policy insights would be both appropriate and interesting.

Having family businesses share their story and participate in the research study helps to create a united voice for family firms. If you are an advisor or consultant with family enterprise clients in the U.S., we encourage you to pass on this link to the  2014 Annual Survey of Family Firms to families with whom you work. The online survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete and family business respondents will receive a complimentary Ambassador Level membership to FEUSA and a copy of the published survey results.

Caroline McLeanCaroline McLean joined FEUSA as executive director in July 2013.  Prior to her work with FEUSA, Caroline has been a leader in campaigns and organizations at the state and national levels for more than 20 years. She can be reached at [email protected].