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Emotionally-owned businesses

Does it matter if your family has no emotional attachment to the family business? I only ask because new research has touched on this very subject and highlighted several interesting issues.

The study by the Institute for Family Business, "Emotional Ownership - The Critical Pathway Between the Next Generation and the Family Firm", reports that fostering emotional ownership at an early age gives family members a sense of identification and attachment to the family business.

It is hard to find fault with this statement, although news that the best time and place to jumpstart the next gen's involvement is 6 years of age around the dinner table, as the authors claim, will no doubt raise eyebrows among many families.

Knowing when to switch between being a parent and being a manager is a delicate balancing act, and knowing where the boundaries between family time and business time lie is crucially important to a child's development.

As we reveal in the latest issue of Campden FB, even one of the most successful family businesses, Mars Inc, kept the next generation's introduction to the company very low key. Pamela Mars-Wright recalls how she was taken to see the factories as a child, but more importantly her father taught her how to ride a bike.

Consequently, how you introduce the inherently complex topic of the family business to a young child must be done carefully. But when you do, you might want to pay a little more attention to your young daughter.

The study also reports that emotional ownership is stronger in males than in females. What at first sight seems to be a step backwards for the equality of the sexes movement is tempered by the fact that this was a global study and, like it or not, certain parts of the world still push the male as the rightful inheritor.

But all is not quite as it seems. For example, some of the very places where you would expect males to be heir apparents – such as the Middle East – actually have the lowest levels of emotional ownership.

This brings us back to the fundamental question of whether it actually matters. Does the fact that emotional ownership is strong mean that a family business is successful – surely the most important criteria in anyone's book?

Thierry Lombard, managing partner of seventh-generation private bank Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch who supported this report, is in no doubt. In his foreword, he says emotional ownership "in many ways enables [family businesses] to continue their ventures over
the generations with passion and love."

Many family members behind some of the most bitter disputes of recent times have had a strong emotional attachment to their businesses, but this hasn't precluded them for self-combusting in spectacular fashion.

The Ambani brothers, the Bancroft family and the Busch clan have, or had, a deeply rooted emotional attachment to their family business, but poor communication, bad planning and personal vendettas have undermined their success.

Emotional ownership is perhaps what defines a family business, but it doesn't guarantee longevity.

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