In reading Andrew Keyt’s piece about family businesses (recently published on, “structure” was the one word that continued to resonate for me. Mr. Keyt never used the word “structure” but his advice to family owned businesses revolved around that theme.  Through his discussions of planning, communication, unity, Mr. Keyt’s concrete suggestions always were to add structure.  Add structure to your business.  We all know how first generation family businesses can be as structure-less as any other early stage business – and even more so when the participants rely on family relations, rather than policies and agreements.

Adding structure prepares the business for the challenges ahead. But Mr. Keyt went further.  Whether intentionally or not, he advocated adding structure even into the non-business family dynamic.  Add structure to your family.  Under the auspices of promoting family communication about the business and distilling family goals, Mr. Keyt was really advocating for family meetings, family governing documents, written or unwritten family policies for dealing with conflict.  All of this is structure.

Mr. Keyt’s individual suggestions are probably not new to most family owned businesses. But the exciting thing is the universal theme.

Adding structure (and looking for places where your business or your family needs additional structure) is a good way to protect your business and your family.  It is the answer to the question, “How will we possibly be prepared for…” Read Mr. Keyt’s piece here.

Drew Steen is a business transactions attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP.  He represents both buy-side and sell-side clients in mergers and acquisitions, venture capital investments, joint ventures, equity co-investments and restructurings.  He also serves as regular corporate counsel for several closely-held and family-owned companies.  Drew can be reached via email at or directly at 206.757.8081.