This Houston tech leader explains the challenges and opportunities that succession planning includes. Photo via Getty Images

Family-owned businesses have unique challenges when it comes to succession. The biggest obstacle is that family members leading the organizations think they know their own children or heirs’ capabilities better than they actually do. The current slate of executives can see the most obvious strengths to some degree, but they often miss the entirety of each family member’s gifts. They may also fail to see what work gives each heir the most passion and job fulfillment.

The second challenge is the emotional connection to family members, which can make hiring or promoting decisions stressful. This can also lead to difficulty with honesty when it comes to family members. On the other hand, some business owners are too tough on the next generation taking over. In either case, finding the right balance between effective work relationships and objective decision-making can be difficult. Then there is the challenge of openness, willingness and objectivity to make the tough calls. One example of this is if the internal family talent has gaps, the executives need to be willing to recruit or promote key talent to fill the gaps to be the most effective team. When a family-owned business refuses this, this can be detrimental and create a problematic future. Like it or not, while family businesses can be exceptionally rewarding, they are still businesses at their core and must adapt effectively to be competitive or to survive future challenges.

Lastly, there is a competitive factor when it comes to succession in family-owned businesses. Most family members that are engaged in the business and in a leadership capacity tend to be highly competitive by nature. Adding to the sibling rivalry that they have faced throughout their life. So, with succession, how does the family keep these competitive forces in check while being aligned in a positive way?

The best way to overcome these challenges is to understand each person's leadership character traits and risks for ineffective behaviors or derailment. Additionally, learning about someone’s drivers, reward needs, or intrinsic motivation can help paint the big picture. When using these objective measures, the family leadership team can get an accurate reading of the talent of each family member as well as get a clear look at the leadership bench strength. There are validated assessment tools that can help business owners understand these characteristics such as in-depth character, risk and motivational measures geared toward leadership development, training and executive coaching.

For example, Jennifer was the CEO of a large residential and commercial real estate company. She was exemplary in the business, built strong relationships and was a go-getter in sales and marketing. Throughout her tenure, she hired top talent and had a natural executive presence. Her husband, George, was the CFO who had the typical high level, brilliant financial smarts and measured everything to the nth degree. Their family-owned business soared to become number one in the region competing with national franchises. As time went on, they planned to transition the business to their two sons. They saw John, one of their sons, as the heir for the CEO position because he excelled in fostering relationships and operations. Therefore, they also assumed he would just pick up on the marketing and sales that Jennifer was great at. This left the other son, Ray, as the new CFO because he was financially brilliant.

However, what Jennifer and George missed was that there were holes and gaps in each of the sons’ skill sets that didn’t quite align with the positions they were to succeed. With a thorough assessment through the CDR 3-D Suite and individual coaching and discussions, the mismatch became evident In fact, one of the sons said he would leave the company if forced to do the parent’s job role. The other son had similar comments. After investing in these helpful tools they re-created the executive roles to “fit” the sons’ profiles and needs. This required adding another key executive to lead marketing and sales for John since he excelled in operations leadership, financial management and relationship building. Ray took on some financial responsibilities but his primary role was business development. He focused on big ideas and business growth. A deep dive into his characteristics and drivers demonstrated how If he were to work with numbers routinely, he would be miserable which in turn would affect the business as a whole.

The lesson learned is that executives cannot necessarily force their children or family into the same boxes or job descriptions they have held. Sometimes, there needs to be a shift or redesign of the job description and scope of responsibility to best fit the incoming executives. The next generation will share some of the same strengths, but will also have different skills and weaknesses. Many will likely be motivated by different aspects of the work and if business owners are not able to identify these inherent capabilities and needs, succession can be unsuccessful.

In terms of conflict or tippy-toeing around difficult conversations, using data can help family-owned business executives and their family members get a clear and objective understanding of their respective talents and needs. The initial work goes a long way and keeps discussions productive and on track. Good data supports productive decisions so that everyone is in a win-win position. When approaching succession this way, generations will be placed in roles that best fit their personality and what they want to be doing. Without this type of data, it is easy to misalign roles which causes problematic performance and conflict and fosters a stressful work environment. When leaders are stressed, inherent risk factor behaviors manifest regularly, which damages performance and relationships. Bottom line, identifying these characteristics before planning succession and using objective assessments provide the data and the blueprint for family-owned businesses to design successful executive teams.

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Nancy Parsons is the president and CEO at CDR Companies.

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Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

Texas startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.