Passion and ambition are inextricably intertwined. Passion, our internal drive, is the force that guides our ambition and leads us to meet our goals. These two components are essential for a thriving family business. However, family members must be able to find their own passions and ambitions not only in the business setting but also in their personal lives.

The structure of family businesses is changing as women move to the forefront of the workforce, and the next generations of family business leaders are bringing new ideas to the table. It is imperative for family businesses to harness these new voices without sacrificing the wisdom of the older generations.

In this episode of our WiFB Conversations, Susanne Bransgrove and Ramia Marielle El Agamy discuss passion and ambition, how best to utilise them within a family business and the succession challenges facing family businesses.

This episode of Conversations with Women in Family Business is co-produced with Susanne Bransgrove, director of LiquidGold Consultants.

Photo by Sweet Ice Cream on Unsplash

How do passion and ambition relate to each other?

Ambition is the mindset that pushes us to achieve something. It is necessary to know what that something is, and that is where passion comes into play. Passion is that inner feeling and desire to make something specific happen.

Trying to describe passion is difficult because it is an internal feeling. It is that dream we see in the future that we aspire toward, and it is something we would love to achieve for ourselves and for those we love.

For me, passion comes before ambition because, without passion, there doesn’t seem to be any point in being ambitious.

When I was younger, I had directionless ambition. I knew I wanted success, but I didn’t know where I wanted it. As I matured and started to experience life, I began to understand myself much better through self-reflection and, eventually, I developed a passion.

That passion provided direction and channelled my ambition so that I was able to use it. Rather than just being ambitious about everything, I was able to harness that drive and head into the right direction.

How do you strike a balance between being passionate and being ambitious?

When you’re trying to support both passion and ambition, you have to have two completely different conversations.

The ambitious conversation covers business performance, key performance indicators, measurements, relevant mentors and various leadership training. At the same time, it’s helpful to have someone check in with you now and then about whether you’re still passionate about your project. Having two different mentors with whom I can reflect regularly has helped me learn how to measure and channel my ambition into a concrete outcome.

Having a conversation about your passion and purpose also helps you evolve as a purposeful and passionate human being. You need to have passion to be able to get out of bed in the morning and continue being ambitious.

Do you still find the term ‘ambitious woman’ derogatory?

I wish it weren’t the case, but I do. I cringe just hearing the phrase. Quite frankly, being referred to as an ‘ambitious woman’ is not what I want.

The negative connotations of the phrase reflect the subtle ways in which men describe women using words that make us feel bad about what we are and what we’re trying to achieve. These kinds of words are often used to infer behaviour that they might not like to see, and they rarely use the words ‘ambitious’ and ‘woman’ together in a positive way.

What’s the secret to having a successful family business in which all partners are ambitious and passionate?

It comes down to commitment. The commitment that members make to their family has to be as strong as the commitment that they make to their business. I believe that every generation has a responsibility to support and mould the best future leaders in the next generation of their family.

There are three distinct areas within the family business – the business, the family and the individuals who comprise the family.

The focus of a family business tends to be on nurturing the business rather than the family behind it. You pour consultants and resources into the business, and there are clear values, visions and missions. You have an articulation of what the business stands for, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there.

Equally as important is making sure that the family itself has values, vision and purpose. The family should have a direction outside of the business so that the business becomes a replaceable vehicle, but the family still stands firm in its convictions.

Each individual needs to also have an understanding of their own values, vision and purpose. Having self-awareness will help them to better align their own desires with the needs of the family and the business. Self-sacrifice can be beautiful if you understand why you’re doing it.

How can family business leaders create a culture that allows individual family members to fulfil their ambition and live passionately?

There must be three different planning conversations – one for the family, one for the business and one for the individual. These conversations have to cover values, vision, strategy, the effort you’re willing to put in to make everything work and how you will govern that whole framework.

There’s no doubt that this takes a lot of discipline, commitment and resources, but you can’t neglect one aspect to favour another.

Many businesses put all of their effort and resources into the business itself while neglecting to nurture the individuals of the family. The members of the family are therefore unable to learn, develop and understand their passions and purpose within and outside of the business.

Eventually, the individuals within the family will start showing signs of distress and lack of well-being, and there’s going to be conflict that bleeds into the family. When the family begins arguing, that upheaval seeps into the business, making it weak.

I always start by making sure that each individual in the family has the resources they need to reach their full potential. It’s not an easy path, and it certainly takes quite a bit of time and effort to walk it, but it is rewarding when you nurture your family and see its members succeed.

How can family businesses best utilise younger members who might have a different mindset than their parents?

Once upon a time, family businesses were handed down from father to eldest son. This patriarchal structure is still used in many businesses today, and the majority of business owners are male.

In some family businesses, however, the mother values equality, and all of the children have equal ownership of the business. Female leadership is becoming more common, and 50 per cent of next-generation family business leaders are now female. They’re educated, loud and proud, and they’re challenging the patriarchs. This is causing a lot of riffs, but it’s important to create dialogue so that we as a society can move forward to become a more inclusive community.

Creating understanding and fostering conversations brings the older and younger generations closer together. It lets us harness the wisdom of the legacy and combine it with the different perspectives that the next generation brings.

It’s very challenging for a lot of families to successfully have these voices coexist, but it can be beautiful when they find that perfect balance between the past and the future.

About Susanne Bransgrove and LiquidGold Consultants: 

Susanne Brainsgrove

Susanne Bransgrove, one of the directors of LiquidGold Consultants, is known for her passion for supporting Families in Business manage the complexities of balancing multiple generations and for encouraging female founders and future leaders to be the best they can be. Growing up in Germany as part of a third-generation family business has provided her with a sound foundation for understanding the range of issues that arise when family members work together. Susanne puts her heart into the businesses and individuals she spends time with and believes in a strong foundation of love and compassion.