John Tucker is a Grant Thornton Fellow in Family Business at the International Centre for Families in Business.
"The creation of something new is not accomplished by intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves" (Carl Jung)
In my view the very notion of family business succession rests upon the premise that a set of generic concepts underlies the planning process. In the UK, rapidly following the American models the issue of succession in family business is becoming a packaged industry. It is reliant on figures, legal agreements, share price and other administrative issues. One unintended consequence of the packaging of family business succession is that it fosters superficiality, a kind of pseudocompetence in both the professional advisers to the family business and the family business members. It seems perfectly acceptable in family businesses to accept and utilise ideas and concepts that come straight from business textbooks; without an acknowledgement or understanding of the powerful emotional forces at work within the family unit. Clarity of thinking is often the first casualty when the business confronts the family dynamics. It is as if entrepreneurs and owners feel on safe ground when dealing with 'financial capital', but when confronted by the problems of dealing with their 'emotional capital', they lose their perspective.
If one of the fundamental tasks of a family is to protect its stability, it is easier to understand how families struggling with a desire to perpetuate the status quo suddenly run into difficulties when the question of succession is raised. Whatever else is in the diary, planning not to die rarely features. And at a primitive level, a son (or daughter) raising the question about the older generation handing over ultimately is linked to issues about death. Probably the greatest obstacles to successful succession in family businesses, particularly from first to second generation are: facing one's mortality and fear. These two linked themes challenge the whole creative process of building and nurturing the business. They often force the question, "what have I done all this for?" The struggle may become a replay of struggles the parent had with his/her own parent and which now comes back into focus.
My hypothesis is that women are better equipped to deal with the issues of 'emotional capital' It is highly likely that a family business run by a woman will enjoy a better chance of successful succession than a family business run by a man. The vast majority of family businesses are still controlled by a man and the approach to succession reflects a male view of the world.
"Men are symbols of male energy. Traditionally, they have developed to act in the world strongly, directly, assertively, and aggressively. They have developed their own intellect. And to a large extent they have repressed and denied their intuition, emotional feelings, sensitivity and nurturing. Women are the symbols of female energy. Traditionally, women have developed and expressed receptivity, nurturing, intuition, sensitivity and emotion. They have more or less repressed assertiveness, direct action, intellect and the ability to function effectively and strongly in the world." (Shakti Gawain, 1989)
The last ten years may have seen some changes, but not fundamental changes. Men still do the business and we contend that the mindset has not changed. The male aspect is action, doing things, to think, to speak, to move our bodies. The female aspect is the receptive aspect, the channel through which the higher intelligence of the universe can flow. The female in us communicates through our inner promptings, gut feelings or images that come from a deep place within us.
The female in us is the source of higher wisdom often denied to men through our conditioning. Our maleness is afraid of losing individuality so we hold on to individuality and separateness at all costs. The female power is less inclined to see the family business (organisation) as separate parts and encourage union and oneness. The male part is more likely to see the 'business' in the family business and the female part is more likely to see the 'family' in the family business.
Succession in the family business only succeeds optimally when it has been prepared for in an atmosphere of joint commitment and when the process, which is inevitable, is viewed as confirmation of success.
Our traditional, male dominated, left brain view of the world has created a paradigm that values power and control, analysis and order, a paradigm that prevails in many family businesses. This paradigm also drives the processes and systems used to 'plan' succession. Many successful family business have been founded and run on the sheer drive and energy of the founding father, leaving little left to develop the next generation. The statistics regularly quoted paint a gloomy picture with some 70% of first generation family businesses failing to move to second generation. Whatever the reasons for the failure to pass to second generation we believe the paradigm has to change if we want more family business to stay 'in the family'. In conjunction with our traditional approaches we need to develop our female dominated, right brain skills that value unity, trust, honesty, and openness.
More and more women are starting to run the family business and we believe this will result in an increase in the number of 'successful family business successions'.