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Conference Notes: Leveraging Values in a Family Business

Family values permeate the culture at McKee Foods. Integrity, quality, productivity, responsibility, people, and innovation. They act as a kind of compass–a set of guiding principles for both non-family and family employees. McKee holds them in high regard and has, throughout the company’s history, passed them on from one generation to the next. Mike McKee (CEO at McKee) was kind enough to share on the importance of leveraging these values. His talk explored the relationship between values, family, and business.


Moral Capital

When a family’s values, virtues, norms, practices, and identities mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms, they have what’s called a strong moral capital. Simply put, a strong moral capital is when everyone in the business sings from the same song book. They know the values, believe in them, and live by them. As a result, cooperation trumps selfishness, employees are more engaged, change is met with speed and agility, talent is retained, and the business develops a strong offensive against intruders.

Mike’s book recommendation on the topic:

Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt


Leader Archetype

To all of the family business leaders out there, remember to communicate your values through action and visibility. As Mike emphasized in his presentation: “Don’t choose values just because they sound good.” Values that sound good mean nothing if they’re not put into practice. People rally around values based in reality and history. Values linked to history can be especially important since there is often a great deal of power and reverence in family mythology. Sharing oral stories from one generation to the next can build cohesion, strengthen values, and engage the NxG.

Mike’s book recommendation on the topic:

The King Within by Robert Moore & Douglas Gillette


Cultural Roots

It may take some research, but digging back through time and taking an honest look at your lineage can reveal family strengths, weaknesses, and patterns that you may not even be aware of. See what you can find. Where did your family originate from? What are your cultural roots? What are the admirable qualities of that culture? Any not-so-admirable qualities? Learn from both the good and the bad and see if you can identify which characteristics still play a part in your family and business today.

Mike’s book recommendation on the topic:

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard


Values take time to shape and develop, and even more time to permeate a culture. When Mike was asked to recall how and when his family values were taught to him, he answered: “There’s no one specific memory, but thousands of little experiences that come to form who you are and what you believe in.”


What experiences have helped shape your values as an individual, as a family, and as a business?

How does family mythology play a part in your family business?

How do values make an impact within your family or business?


  • By Danielle on 7.18.2014 at 2:44 pm

    Good post. I especially like the cultural roots idea: It sounds like both a practical and fun way to incorporate family history into business.

  • By Eric on 7.23.2014 at 12:52 pm

    I really couldn’t agree more that expressing values as part of company culture is an ethical (and also profitable) thing to do. We all love seeing the little guy get big and still hold true to his values. Great post.

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