Disclaimer: I am not currently in a family business. I used to be, but I’m not now. Sure, I ask my husband to consult when I’m working with clients in either the cannabis or culinary spaces. And sure, my mother provides incredible insights when I am working with boards or with educational institutions. But part of growing a family business is including a long-term sustainability provision. And my business is not sustainable over the long haul.

When I say “sustainability” here, I’m not talking about ecological sustainability or ethical consumerism. I’m talking about the scientific understanding of sustainability: the ability to continue indefinitely. Family businesses need to build in provisions for future generations to become involved – and mathematically, there need to be enough family members to keep the family itself going for whatever indefinite future could come to pass.

I used to be a second-generation businesswoman. I worked with my parents and entertained the notion that the business could be sustainable through future generations. At this point, however, my family business is not sustainable because there are no subsequent generations who could come onboard to extend the business’s life beyond my own.

To have a truly sustainable family business, the family tree must extend linearly every generation beyond the first. And each generation needs to have some relation to the business itself. Nordstrom is a great example of a sustainable family business – they’re currently in the fourth generation of family control, despite being a publicly-traded company.

My career has allowed me to see the inner workings of several family-run businesses, and I’ve learned a few things about how they become successful. First off – they don’t allow the potential for drama to run their decisions. Family drama can pop up, for sure, but it is secondary to the business operations. Secondly, profitable and sustainable family businesses stick to a strategic plan that both recognizes the strengths of family members, but does not allow those family members’ personalities to define the roles that will most support the business.

Often family businesses grow organically, giving promotions to the “most deserving” or even just “next oldest.” This can build a business on an unstable foundation – especially if there are others in the family with stronger skill sets.

Developing a strategic plan that includes strong role definitions and spans of control that are disassociated from family relationships can avoid pitfalls like these.