After seeking approval from his siblings, Mark Trevor hired Virginia Scott, a family business consultant, to enlighten his family about possibly unfair compensation practices in their 50-year-old family business. The ninth of Ben and Amy’s 12 children, Mark believed that the family’s current practice of providing equal salaries for different types of work and giving special allowances due to marital circumstances were unfair. His siblings, with ages ranging from 37 to 58, had varied opinions about this.
Virginia initially thought that the case of the Trevors would be straightforward. She had more than 15 years of experience working with business families and she had been successful in making family members understand that each held a different perspective depending on whether they were involved in the family business as owners or managers or not at all. This is a perspective presented by Tagiuri and Davis (1992) in their three-circle model of family businesses. By making family members in previous engagements differentiate their family, ownership, and business positions, they had become more sensitive to the concerns raised by the other.
This time, however, Virginia would need to work with each of the 10 living siblings as each has unique circumstances. Certainly, each would have their own views about how the family business should compensate them; after all, they are all children of the founders. Virginia would have to tread carefully, though, so as not to antagonize any of the siblings; but, she needed to deal with them firmly so as not to be pulled by one or the other into a triangle relationship where she will be forced to take sides. How should Virginia strike the balance and help the family members understand each other’s perspective and accept a business compensation framework that would be perceived as fair by everyone? This paid engagement was preliminary but Virginia knew that if the Trevor’s accepted the framework, this would lead to a separate, more substantial engagement focused on preparing the compensation structure for the family.