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The Secret to a Successful Family Business

If you have a family business, then you know these can be explosive endeavors. Emotions run high among relatives, but bonds are also deeper than usual for people who work together.

One successful family has stayed in business 166 years, never accepting offers to go public or sell, or succumbing to the urge to split, and they are in the business of pyrotechnics. Phil Grucci, chief of Fireworks by Grucci, spoke to Fortune about how this family in a risky business has kept cool and hung together for so long.

Blowing Up

For fireworks display makers, the Fourth of July is a big day of the year. But according to Phil Grucci -- who leads the family business -- it takes sustained focus throughout the year, starting just the week after Independence Day, to make this unusual enterprise so stable.

Over their history, the Gruccis have survived economic downturns and countless difficulties. Of course, they have also been faced with temptations, like offers to take the company public or sell it altogether. But Phil Grucci has gone the other way and now owns a majority stake in a business that was once widely divided among branches of the family.

Clear Leadership

According to Grucci, a clear leadership structure is the secret to a strong family business, just like any other entity. But there is a risk of that being diluted over the years as these types of enterprises are passed and split up through inheritance. Phil Grucci, whose own father died in a fireworks explosion in a factory, bought portions of the business to strengthen the company. He explained to Fortune:

"The theory is that a typical family business becomes hard to maintain after the third generation. The first and second generations are easy -- it's a vertical structure with a clear leader. During the third and fourth generation, the tree becomes wider and there's more management. In the fifth generation, I decided to make the business vertical again. When my aunt and uncle retired, I purchased their stock so that there was a single leader. My children and nephews are part of the business, but there's a clear leadership structure to maintain the vertical nature of the business."

Dedication

Phil Grucci's father died in a factory explosion in 1983, yet his son has maintained the family business and strengthened his hold on it. He says pyrotechnics are an art form and they entertain, which is gratifying. But more than that, he wants the business to remain in the family and has dedicated his life to this goal.

Consult With Counsel

If you are in business with family or considering it, consult with counsel. Get guidance on setting up a legal structure that will ensure your enterprise can succeed for as long as that of the Grucci family.

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