Deconstructing Conflict: A Personal Approach to Family Business Consulting

A Family Firm Institute interview with 2023 Interdisciplinary Award Winner Doug Baumoel, who transformed personal pain into a unique consulting methodology

Editor’s note: This article shares highlights of a 16-minute podcast hosted by the Family Firm Institute (FFI), which we’ve embedded below, along with key excerpts.

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Continuity Family Business Consulting Founder Doug Baumoel isn’t your typical family business consultant. Born into a family business that his father started in the basement of his home when he was 6 years old, he was initiated early into the world of family business dynamics.

“We had a lot of conflict … we sought help from folks like family business consultants and other related professionals to help manage what was going wrong in our family business, so I’ve been on the client side of this,” said Baumoel. “In the end, my family business was sold as a result of family litigation. We lost a lot of wealth in the sale and it split the family for a decade.”

A Transformative Realization: Turning Crisis into Opportunity

His own family business journey pointed him towards a path that would eventually become his life’s mission. “One of my early epiphanies for why we were unsuccessful was because of poorly managed conflict,” he said. “Conflict in a family business is systemic, identity-based conflict. It’s about who you are and your place in the world and, when you feel your identity is being challenged (as what was going on in my family), you go to great lengths to protect your identity, which is not negotiable.”

“I also realized that conflict or the potential for conflict is sort of woven into the fabric of family enterprise,” he added. “I figured if I could provide some new thinking and some new approaches to better understanding and managing conflict in family enterprise, I would go into this field and that’s what I spent about a year and a half thinking about.”

The Unique Approach: Engineering meets Emotional Intelligence

Inspired by Carl Sagan’s teachings on systems and a deep dive into understanding the complexities of identity-based conflict, Doug developed a unique approach that is brought to life in his book, “Deconstructing Conflict: Understanding Family Business, Shared Wealth and Power.”

Co-written with Continuity Managing Partner Blair Trippe, this seminal work emphasizes dissecting family business issues into component parts and grasping their interconnectedness, which leads to enhanced problem-solving. This methodology, a fusion of Doug’s engineering background and systemic, interdisciplinary thinking, stands distinct in the family business consulting domain.

Embracing a Holistic Approach: Beyond Traditional Consulting

The Continuity Family Business Consulting model doesn’t operate in isolation. Doug emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach, integrating the expertise of lawyers, estate attorneys, litigators, mediators, coaches, and other professionals to address the unique challenges that family businesses face.

“This [field of work] requires that you truly understand what it is to work in a family business or to be a stakeholder of some type in a family business,” he said. “Most of the consultants on our team have actual family business experience of some sort so that they have a window into the issues at play and how important they are to families.”

A Reward Beyond Measure: The Joy of Reconciliation

For Doug, the true reward lies not just in resolving business conflicts, but in rebuilding and reinforcing family bonds.

“There’s no better feeling to know that you are helping people, you’re helping families,” he said. “We’re not psychologists, but we have helped families reconstitute after a ‘cutoff’ of several years. A cutoff is when a family member exits the family out of anger or they’re kicked out of the family because there’s no trust. We’ve had several instances where we’ve brought those people back into the fold and there’s nothing more rewarding than that.”