I've been planning my retirement for some 15 years. I keep a sharp eye on my pension schemes and investments, and quietly rejoice that I never sunk my hard-earned cash into IT companies – firms that rode a tsunami of venture capital in the late 1990s only to come crashing down as the dot-com boom soured. I've stuck to diamond mines, mutual funds and property, after all, there's nothing wrong with hedging your bets.
Against my financial adviser's better judgement, I'm now considering investing in companies that supply ink to the newspapers that publish stories about family businesses. The idea came to me last month as I was trawling through Reuters' news databases. I keyed 'family' and 'business' into a search field and was promptly buried in a virtual avalanche of some 10,000 international news items spanning a one-year time period. The articles conjured up images of newsprint and oceans of ink. Initially I took to the idea of sifting through 10,000 stories like cashmere to barbed wire, but curiosity got the better of me so I scanned through 75 articles, keen to unearth a new set of family business findings.
I wasn't disappointed. The stats are as fascinating as they are staggering. Often labelled as commercially naïve dens of nepotism, UK family businesses actually account for more than 50% of private sector GDP and 40-50% of private sector jobs. Indeed, two-thirds of British companies are family businesses. It could even be argued that my mortgage is paid indirectly by family businesses. In other parts of the world, it's a similar tale. In the US one-third of Fortune 500 companies still have a substantial family interest. In Canada, family firms reportedly make up 75-90% of businesses and account for more than half of the country's economy and employment.
Consider the Middle East. Virtually all enterprises there are family run. Indeed, some experts believe that if the top 10 family-run businesses in Saudi Arabia became publicly listed companies they would pump US$50 billion into the Saudi stock market. My point? For all the negative press family businesses attract – let the cynics wag their tongues about the discord that inevitably sets in as the family unit grows – they create jobs and do more than their bit in underpinning economies around the globe. True, come the third generation transitioning a family business can be fraught with logistical, financial and emotional problems. But can there be a more fertile training ground than a proper family environment for honing the crucial soft skills we so often hear are required to get on in the modern business world? As for hard skills, there are plenty of MBA schools around for that.
Meanwhile, my ink investment scheme is probably a non-starter. I'll carry on taking learned advice from my senior portfolio investment professional – my older, richer brother – who is well on his way towards a lifestyle that boasts a substantial amount of disposable income, security and, crucially, familial harmony. I may have questioned his judgement when the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank below 10,000, but then blood is thicker than water and what goes up can sometimes come down.