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On the face of it, nothing could be more unfair than a family business, in which the only way to get to the top is to have the right surname. But a piece of research recently carried out by three academics in America suggests that this unfairness is one of family businesses’ greatest strengths. And, paradoxically, that the specific type of unfairness in family businesses could even make them fairer overall.

Is senile dementia breaking out in family businesses? It would appear so, or at least something approaching that, to the casual observer.

What are we to make of the fact that News International, the company that owns the News of the World, is a family business? People who run or work in and around family businesses often say that they have a moral grounding, which is connected to the family’s feelings of responsibility and stewardship that make the business a way of life, and not just a way to make a living. So what went wrong in the Murdochs’ case?

Woody Allen once said that sex is only dirty if you are doing it right. Lots of people think something similar about business. There’s a narrative running from the American robber baron capitalists through Gordon Gekko and directly to The Apprentice and even The Wire, which says that business is some sort of dog-fight, a Darwinian scramble in which there are winners and losers.

When Karl-Johan Persson was appointed by his father as chief executive of one of the world’s biggest retailers Hennes & Mauritz, commentators on family businesses said it was an inspired move.

The members of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee recently discussed last year’s takeover of Cadbury by Kraft. They concluded that they “cannot help feeling that some of the soul of Cadbury has already been lost”.

One of the oddest of the odd things that have come out since Osama Bin Laden was killed was a detail from his will which said that he didn’t want his children to follow him into jihad.

If you are a wealthy person interested in protecting you privacy, the UK was always a good place to live. Equipped with some of the sharpest legal minds on protecting privacy anywhere, sympathetic judges and fool-proof gagging orders – the UK has been a top destination for those looking for anonymity.

When it comes to serious wealth creation in the UK, family businesses play a small role, at least compared with their Continental counterparts. This is not a positive sign for long-term wealth creation in Europe’s third largest economy.
 

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