Reflecting on our Advisory Board Meetings: Insights and Actions for Q1

At Board Associates, we believe in the transformative power of strategic advisory boards. Our first-quarter advisory board meetings have yielded valuable insights in key areas such as corporate governance, financial management, leadership development, and strategic planning workshops. This piece aims to share these insights and provide actionable steps for business owners and leaders to enhance their performance.

Corporate Governance in Family Businesses: Rethinking Traditional Models

Matthew Dunstan, our founder and a respected scholar at QUT’s Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research, has uncovered surprising findings in corporate governance within family firms. His research, focusing on optimising governance for financial excellence, suggests that different family businesses may require distinct governance models. Key takeaways include:

  1. The Advantage of Informal Governance in Mature Firms: Mature family firms might benefit more from informal governance structures, challenging the usual push for formalisation.
  2. The Role of Corporate Governance in Young Firms: Younger firms appear to thrive under small, informal governance setups.
  3. CEO and Board Dynamics: A balance between CEO involvement and board independence is crucial for financial success in family-run businesses.

Action for Owners: Family business owners are encouraged to reassess their governance structures in light of these findings. For further guidance, explore our articles on family business and governance, and consider participating in our ongoing research. You can register your interest by contacting

Financial Management and Hidden Cash Reserves

In one of our portfolio companies, we’ve driven a remarkable six-fold growth over the last few years. Last quarter, however, we encountered an unexpected financial challenge. Despite intentionally moderating growth to allow profits to flow into the cash reserves, the company’s cash balance unexpectedly declined. The causes of the problem were not evident in standard financial reports, so we undertook an in-depth financial analysis working with one of our partners.

The analysis went beyond the typical data of profit & loss statements and cash flow forecasts. Instead, we focused on three additional but seldom used financial metrics that proved pivotal in diagnosing the root causes affecting the company’s cash flow dynamics. These were the working capital absorption rate, the movement of working capital and the movement of debt on the balance sheet. This analysis revealed that subtle changes in the balance between profits, cash, working capital, equity and debt compounded to create a situation where the company was profit-rich but cash-poor.

This case serves as an essential lesson for business owners, particularly highlighting the need for a comprehensive financial health check during periods of growth or turbulence. It underscores the importance of looking beyond surface-level financial reports and considering a broader spectrum of financial metrics.

Action for Owners:  If your cash at bank balance is declining, you should consider undertaking a more detailed financial analysis of the causes and, more importantly, create a new set of financial management guidelines to protect the business. Our team at Board Associates can help.

A Team-Led Approach to Setting Strategy

At Board Associates, we have pioneered a transformative approach called ‘Quick Wins’ workshops, expertly guided by our People and Culture Specialist, Belinda Straughn Winks. These workshops engage all staff members in focused discussions, applying qualitative research methods such as thematic analysis to transform direct feedback into actionable data.

This bottom-up approach to strategy uniquely uncovers critical business issues and solutions as perceived by the team. It’s a novel way of shaping strategic imperatives, enhancing workplace culture, productivity, and staff retention, while uncovering hidden management blind spots.  (Read more)

Action for Owners: Leaders have an opportunity to define and deliver new, tangible benefits for the business and to do so in a way that brings staff together and empowers them.  If you feel there is more potential in your team, a Quick Wins workshop is a fast and affordable way to create immediate value.

The Importance of Depth in the “Senior Management Bench”

It’s not uncommon for business owners to find themselves rolling up their sleeves and diving back into day-to-day operations to support their management team. While such involvement can offer immediate operational support, it often comes at the cost of neglecting the strategic work essential for long-term growth. Owners frequently find themselves caught in a cycle of ‘two steps forward, one step backward’, where progress is hampered by the constant need to put out fires.

This year, we have observed several instances where businesses struggled to maintain momentum due to the owners’ frequent need to step into operational roles. In these cases, lacking a solid and capable management team meant critical strategic initiatives were sidelined.

Forward-Thinking Solution: Building depth on the senior management bench is vital. This not only alleviates the burden on the business owner, allowing them to focus on strategic growth but also ensures the business is equipped to handle challenges effectively without always relying on the owner.

Long-Term Benefits: Building your bench of senior management talent might seem difficult or expensive, but the long-term gains in efficiency and strategic growth are invaluable. It is also critical for the future valuation of your business.

Action for Owners:  Ask yourself this question:  If I stepped away from the business now, could the team continue to run it as I would? If the answer is no, you must implement actions to build your senior management bench. Board Associates has experience in executive coaching, mentoring and leadership development programs that may be able to assist.

Strategic Planning Clarity: Focusing on What Truly Matters

In business strategy, clarity and focus are not only vital, they are liberating. A prime example is one of our client companies, currently valued at $7 million. The owner has set a bold aspiration to elevate the business’s value to $40 million within a few years. Achieving such an ambitious goal is no small feat and requires a razor-sharp focus on key growth drivers. Through several rounds of strategic planning, we have identified the four critical imperatives essential to realise this objective.

These four imperatives have become our cornerstone and helped elevate the conversations around the advisory board. With this clarity, every advisory board meeting is now centred around these “four jobs to be done”. Furthermore, this clarity extends to the incentivisation of the CEO – their reward structures are tailored to drive performance specifically in these four areas. This alignment ensures that the CEO’s efforts directly contribute to the business’s strategic objectives.

This experience raises important questions for all business leaders:

  • Do you have a clearly defined intent for your business?
  • Have you identified the critical “jobs to get done”?
  • Is your team aligned around these objectives?

A clear strategic focus and aligning your team around specific goals is fundamental to driving substantial growth. It simplifies decision-making and streamlines efforts across the organisation, setting the stage for accelerated growth and achievement of ambitious targets.

Action for Owners:  What are the three or four things your company must deliver to drive strategic growth? If you can’t answer this question, don’t worry – most leaders can’t, but that’s the opportunity. Board Associates’ Strategic Planning Workshops may be able to assist.

In conclusion, these insights from our Q1 advisory board meetings underscore the breadth of expertise and support available at Board Associates. For more detailed exploration of these topics or to engage with our advisory services, contact us at for tailored advice and solutions

Resetting Culture to Reignite Your Team: A Deep Dive into Sustainable Workplace Practices

Succession Planning for Family-Owned Businesses

Succession planning is a fundamental strategy that ensures the continuity and sustainability of family-owned businesses. It involves preparing for a smooth transition of leadership and ownership to the next generation or successor. Given the personal and emotional ties interwoven within these businesses, succession planning can be more intricate and sensitive, making it that much more important to get right.

Why is it crucial?

For many family businesses, their brand isn’t just a logo—it’s a legacy. The aspiration is often to hand over a thriving enterprise to the next generation. Without a robust succession strategy, the risk of disputes, financial challenges, and even the demise of the business becomes alarmingly high. Remember, a significant portion of family businesses do not make it to the second generation, so it takes careful planning to get it right.

Key Elements of Succession Planning:

  1. Identification and Training: Begin by identifying potential successors from within the family. These individuals should be nurtured, trained, and exposed to various aspects of the business, ensuring they are equipped with the necessary skills and experience.
  2. Open Communication: Transparent and regular communication with all family members is vital. Everyone should be clear on the business’s future direction and their role within it.
  3. Estate Planning: This ensures that wealth and assets are distributed as intended. It also helps in minimizing potential tax implications and ensures that the business remains financially stable.
  4. Legal and Financial Preparations: Engaging legal and financial experts to draft necessary documents like buy-sell agreements, trusts, or wills is crucial.
  5. Advisory Board: Consider establishing an advisory board. Comprising experienced non-family members, they can offer unbiased insights, mediate disputes, and help in key decision-making. The chair can also provide valuable coaching and mentoring for the incoming CEO or Managing Director.

Embracing Change and Adaptability

It’s essential to remember that succession planning is not a one-size-fits-all model. As the business environment and family dynamics change, the plan should be revisited and revised accordingly.

Transitions are inevitable, the success of such changes is not. Effective succession planning not only safeguards a family’s legacy but also ensures that the business continues to thrive for generations to come. For family-owned enterprises, the stakes are personal, and the rewards of meticulous planning are enduring.

When your family-owned business is need of help during these changes, or ideally before, we have specialist programs and experts to assist. Let’s talk about how we can help. The earlier we are engaged, the better.

You can read more about succession planning here on our site.

The Danger of Family Councils and Family Constitutions

Managing family within a family business is one of the most challenging things an entrepreneur and a Board has to do.  To help keep these lines separate and smooth, the prevailing wisdom has been for family shareholders to have a governance structure which manages family harmony (family council or family assembly). Recent research, however, suggests that in some cases this may do more harm than good.

“Family regulatory framework provides obsolete laws without the family governance structure, whilst this structure causes complete confusion without the right regulations.”


Researchers from the University of Valencia studied over 1,000 family firms, looking at how financial performance is affected by things such as family constitutions, family assemblies and other mechanisms which define the rules by which family members operate in business. They found that these structures and rules were important where family complexity was high (multiple generations and family branches) but in other situations, they were associated with a negative return on assets.

Key Findings

  1. The results show that the relationship of family rules and institutions with performance (ROA) is contingent on family complexity.
  2. It should fit the level of complexity of the owner’s family. Any misfit will lead to a non-significant effect or, worse, a negative impact on a firm’s performance (ROA).
  3. When family complexity is low, a complete set of rules and agreements that regulate the relationship between the family and the firm is adequate.
  4. However, when the level of family complexity is high, a complex set of rules (i.e. a complex family regulatory framework) is not enough and may even be counterproductive.
  5. High family complexity requires a well-developed regulatory framework supported by the right family governance structure.
  6. The family regulatory framework provides obsolete laws without the family governance structure, whilst this structure causes complete confusion without the right regulations.


This research is an important reminder that one size does not fit all and that prematurely adopting the structures and rules of larger, more complex family businesses can damage the organisation’s financial performance and wealth generation.

One interesting and simple finding from the research, however, is that starting with simple agreements on how the family operates within the business is useful at all levels and that this should be implemented before considering family governance structures.

There are many studies which show that the creation and deployment of rules regulating ownership and work with the family business provide several benefits:

  1. Protection against owner-owner conflict,

  2. Develop and protect ‘familiness’,

  3. Regulate ownership transmission without draining financial resources or reducing family control,

  4. Formalise communication processes,

  5. Strengthen a shared commitment to norms and values and;

  6. Provide institutional legitimacy to the family and the business


 Having a forum to raise and address family matters is essential, but it doesn’t have to be a formal structure such as a family assembly.  It could be as simple as a regular meeting around the kitchen table.  What’s probably important though is how you run it.

 Here are some simple tips:

  1. It needs to be regular and committed to. It doesn’t work if it’s ad hoc.

  2. The agenda can be pretty simple, but you need to have one so that management issues don’t creep in.

  3. How you run it is more important than what you discuss. The tone has to be set early (preferably when things are going well) and revisit those at the start of each meeting.

  4. If things are already a little fractious, don’t try to fix it yourself. Get some professional assistance to get those topics out from under the rug and into the light of day.

  5. Separate family and business meetings. Let the board meeting focus on running the business and the family meeting focus on protecting Christmas lunch.


In our experience, most family businesses do not have a simple set of family agreements in place to protect both the business and the family.  If you would like to discuss how these might be developed for your family business, contact us here


Matthew is the Founder of Board Associates, a firm dedicated to the sustainable growth of family and private firms.  Matthew is also a researcher at QUT working towards his PhD in family business governance.


Tomás González-Cruz , José Antonio Clemente-Almendros & Alba PuigDenia (2021): Family governance systems: the complementary role of constitutions and councils, Economic Research-Ekonomska Istraživanja, DOI: