Nobody fights for anything quite like they fight for family. It’s why so often you hear high performing teams and organizations refer to themselves as a family or a band of brothers and strive to treat each other as such. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your loved ones. Whenever you think there’s nothing left in the tank you’re always able to muster up a little more for your loved ones.
According to Credit Suisse family businesses outperform their non-family counterparts and contribute 50% of the GDP in America. Why? For starters, family businesses are more trusted that public or state owned companies. When it’s your name on the business there’s a greater commitment to quality. You’re also more invested in the brand when it bears your name.
This was never more apparent to me than in my interview with Casey and Melinda Donahew. The Casey Donahew Band is an independent country band from Texas that has made a name for themselves nationally.
They’re a Stadium Status family business in a volatile industry rife with change. The more I learn about the music industry the more I realize it mirrors the book industry. Whether you’re a musician, speaker or author, typically your agent takes 10% and your manager gets 15%. So right out of the gates before you’ve even turned the mic on or sold a book or album you’re going to gross about 25% less as a result (and that’s not even including billable hours management will charge you).
When it comes to management, you’re not their only client. They typically represent dozens of others just like you, so how do you know they always have YOUR best interest at heart? It’s been my experience that they often don’t. They have too many different agendas because they have too many different clients, and at the end of the day that means they have no real allegiance to anyone.
This begs the question, what would make them fight harder and advocate for you over others? The only correct answer is hire someone for whom it isn’t just business, it’s personal. When you work with family you eliminate all conflict of interest. As is the case with Casey Donahew, since forming the band his wife Melinda has been his manager. To quote Casey “Every day she wakes up laser focused fighting for the exact same vision as me. I wouldn’t have that if anyone else were in that role.”
Keep Your Circle Tight
Casey has been very wise to keep his circle tight, when you do you don’t have to question allegiances or motives of people who don’t share your same vision and priorities. I caught up with Casey over lunch before their show in Boston. While there may not be a blood bond, great bands and great teams share that same qualities as a close family. It stands to reason, you spend more time at work with your colleagues than you do at home. And in their case, when you travel on a 400 square foot bus and spend 23 hours a day with 10 different personalities you better enjoy spending time together.
Casey and his bass player Steve Stone were literally finishing each other’s sentences during our interview. Steve was the first person to join the band and has been with Donahew for 15 years.
By anyone’s standards The Casey Donahew Band is a wildly successful family business. The business employs 13 people and the band which is, in its own way, part of the family. This fall they released The Wild Ride which is their 15 year anniversary album. Fifteen years is a remarkable milestone for any business considering 20% of all businesses fail within the first year, 50% of all businesses fail within five years and 70% fail within ten years.
What does Casey attribute their success and longevity to?
- Love what you do
- Have a system
- Do as much as you can yourself
- Watch your business & understand your customers
- Bet on yourself & invest in yourself
It’s more than just a business to the Donahew’s and they’re in good company. Right down the road from where we met up, in Norwell Massachusetts lives the Zildjian Cymbal Company. The most iconic and oldest family business in the United States which also has roots in the music industry. Zildjian is nearly 400 years old and has survived 14 generations. How have they done it? They do almost exactly what Casey outlined for me above as the 5 secrets to his success and longevity. Zildjian maintains an incredible commitment to excellence as they control almost 65% of their market and have survived The Great Depression, 2 World Wars and has literally outlived empires.
Just like Casey and Melinda Donahew they’ve kept their circle tight too. Their proprietary mix of metals that makes the world-class Zildjian cymbal sound is such a closely guarded secret that the current CEO and vice-president didn’t even learn about until they were in their thirties and were thought to be dedicated enough to the business.
Both Zildjian and The Casey Donahew Band thrive because they play the long game. They not only bet on themselves but also proactively invest in themselves. They’re not trying at all costs to make quarterly earnings look good to shareholders. Instead they think long term and have built something sustainable that grows and evolves over time.
Success leaves clues, so take a page from their playbook. Your work is your signature and your signature contains your family name. So, it’s in your best interest to think of yourself as a family business regardless of who your employer is.