Trucks at Work

Optimism in the face of adversity

During the final weeks of 2012, a good chunk of my posts in this space took a negative view of economic landscape for 2013. And while it’s good to be cautious in the business world, constantly focusing on the negative can often create a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of sorts.

Thus it’s a refreshing change of pace to peruse findings from the latest Global Family Business Survey conducted by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which discerned that U.S. family businesses are more confident about their growth prospects for the New Year than their global peers (93% versus 81%) and are taking steps to try and capitalize on “market opportunities,” all despite recognizing that tough times still lay ahead.

For example, while PwC’s poll found that economic challenges top the list of near-term concerns for U.S. family businesses – some 68 % cited “market conditions” as their main worry over the next 12 months – such concerns have waned since the prior survey two years ago (at that time, 88% flagged market conditions) suggesting that family businesses have adapted to the new normal of market volatility and economic uncertainty.

One reason for an increase in the “comfort factor,” if you will, among family businesses is that they continue to take a more conservative approach to strategic planning, with most (82%) expecting to grow steadily over the next five years, while only 11% of businesses expect to grow quickly and aggressively.

That being said, PwC said family-owned companies are nonetheless showing a greater appetite for actively investing in growth initiatives compared with two years ago, focusing on areas such as innovation and international expansion.

This is good stuff for trucking because many carriers – large and small alike – are family businesses at heart.

“We've noticed an attitudinal shift among many U.S. family businesses in the past two years,” noted Alfred Peguero, PwC's U.S. Family Offices Services leader. “They've gone from warily eyeing their next big bet to actively seeking business growth opportunities.”

Yet, again, that doesn’t mean they’re throwing caution to the winds – far from it. For while many U.S. family businesses expect steady growth in the years ahead, they also expect external and internal headwinds to remain strong. Chief among them are tough competition, cited by 61% of respondents, and the ongoing challenge of finding workers with the right skills and talents (52%).

"U.S. family businesses are still navigating a slow-growth economic environment and increasingly competitive marketplace," stressed Peguero. "The talent shortage in particular has been a persistent challenge for companies, as we've seen in the past three consecutive surveys. This is where family businesses can step up and become part of the solution. Through on-the-job training and partnering with local schools, they have an opportunity to play a vital role in creating jobs and growing the economy."

The key takeaway from all this, I think, is that despite the tough economic going, U.S. family business enterprises – some of the most conservative on the block – believe they can not only make do but grow, even if only modestly, in the current environment. As the old saying goes, when you’ve got nothing but lemons, make lemonade.

And it sure seems a lot of lemonade-making is starting to take place. 

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