Technology feuds rock family firms


Kids may be better at programming the DVD recorder than their parents, but when it comes to business, cross-generational disagreements can be deadly serious. In fact six out of 10 owners of family-run business admit they have been at loggerheads over how and where to invest in new technology.

A poll of more than 250 multi-generational U.S small businesses by Microsoft found that in seven out of 10, the younger generation is more enthusiastic about new technology than their older relatives.

Older business owners, often the founders, are generally less interested than their children in obtaining the latest high-tech products and applications unless there is direct evidence it will benefit their bottom line.

By far the most commonplace technologies in small family businesses are internet access and personal desktop computers, with more than three quarters having both.

However younger family members felt that these investments don't go far enough and are worried about losing the technological cutting edge and falling behind their competitors.

Similarly, the younger generation are more likely to be satisfied with recent technology purchases and are keen to spend money on things like wireless devices and mobile technology.

But as the poll also found, investing in new technology is a good way of attracting the younger generation into the company in the first place, while – as three-quarters recognised – it plays an important role in sustaining and growing a business.

Eddie Yandle, a senior director of the Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partner group at Microsoft, conceded technology was often a greater passion for the younger generation in small family businesses.

"The survey did reveal that seven in 10 owners with multiple generations working in the business said that the younger generation is more enthusiastic about technology than the older generation," he acknowledged.

Meanwhile, the attitude of many older business owners was epitomised by Adam Williams, owner of Memphis company ROI Marketing Services, who took part in the poll.

"Sure, we've had disagreements over investing in technology upgrades, and to tell the truth, I'm not exactly thrilled about spending money for the latest and greatest technology if it isn't going to directly impact the bottom line," he said. "The challenge to my son, who always thinks we need the latest gadget, is to prove to me that the investment in technology will help the business grow. If there is a positive return on our investment, I'll listen," he added.