The exciting challenge of being the CEO of a family business

A few years ago I became an “outsider”. In the world of management, this is the name given to those of us who, like me, are part of a business family without being a member of it.

This is a logical name for us, not only because we come from outside the family circle, but also because it’s an uncommon case. In most Spanish family businesses, the family members themselves occupy positions of relevance and in fact, in 82% of the companies, the top executive or CEO is a member of the family clan.

Being an “outsider”, therefore, includes a series of commitments between the executive and the owner family that don’t exist in other companies and which enable the construction of a stimulating business management that is at the same time very complete and complex and which entails a double responsibility.  I believe that it’s vital to establish the rules of the game from the beginning, to define the phases of adaptation to the company and to maintain an open and trusting relationship between both parties, who after all have the same goal and interest, which is none other than to work for the success of the company.

How to be a good outsider

In this experience that I live on a daily basis, I’ve seen that there are a series of traits of the external manager that greatly facilitate the relationship with the family and that work in to benefit the management and the company: the speed and adaptability to understand internal relationships, the business model and the history and concerns of the owners. Have personality, become a focus of character within the company and act as a leadership reference for the rest of the teams. Have communication skills and be committed to a collaborative and transversal tone and style. Be transparent.  Do not be tempted to concentrate all the power and decision-making capacity in our position: create a solid, motivated team and empower people.

An external executive must be flexible in order to adapt to changes and evolve in parallel to the family; tolerant because sometimes they’ll have to yield when making decisive decisions and at the same time they must have the determination and self-confidence to defend their positions and their leadership and management style, always for the good of the company project and committed to by both parties.

Some say that managing a company is like managing a family. And there are those who recommend organising the family as if it were a company… Be that as it may, being an active part of the management of a family business such as Hispano Suiza, which is also a century-old brand that has been reborn, is exciting.  And I live it as a great responsibility, not as a weight or a burden, but as a firm commitment and with maximum dedication to the purpose of the brand, being the most important professional challenge of my life.


Sergio Martínez Campos

CEO, Hispano Suiza