Christine Harland is a director of Camden Writers, producers of family and family business histories. www.camdenwriters.com
The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor by Penny Junor, Thomas Dunne Books & The Queen directed by Stephen Frears
Both Penny Junor's book The Firm and the recent movie The Queen serve up old facts in a slightly new context, the House of Windsor as a multi-multi generational family business, with many of the attendant problems. A hierarchy of managers and a large workforce are posted at Buckingham Palace (company headquarters), with the monarch as CEO exercising autocratic rule. Public image is their product, but they have never gone public, although Parliament and the Archbishop of Canterbury hold some sway. Sometimes the House of Windsor sells well, sometimes it doesn't. Windsor company politics are not for the faint hearted.
Like many a young man or woman who has been preparing half a lifetime for the chance to take over the reins of a family business, Prince Charles has had a bagful of learning the ropes and waiting in the wings. The movie The Queen made it very clear that Elizabeth II takes literally her commitment to spend her entire life in the service of her country, so Charles may have a long wait.
Even when he does take over, Charles, like all successors, will inherit a deeply rooted management style and a group of imbedded managers. In The Queen, we see how influential both the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen Mother were as outdated 'advisers' in the days following Diana's death, and how difficult it was for the Queen to break with tradition, even under those extraordinary historical circumstances. How many times does the next generation passionately counsel modernisation, as Charles did in 1997, only to have that advice fall on deaf ears? Junor points out that Queen Elizabeth "was never going to be a radical monarch" because her personality "didn't allow it".
Not surprisingly, Junor points to communication, or lack thereof, as a major problem in the House of Windsor. According to her, the formality that exists within the Windsor family is "a result of there being no clear distinction between their business and personal lives", a problem shared by many involved in a family enterprise. When the Queen and the Duke did finally sit down with Charles and Diana, their agenda was more complicated than that of ordinary, concerned parents because the impact on the family business could not be ignored. Charles' marital difficulties affected not only him and his children, but the 'Firm' and its product. The wellbeing of the entire Windsor clan hung in the balance, making frank and empathic dialogue a complex matter. This interconnectedness is one of the most challenging aspects of mixing family and business, even when the stakes are a little more modest.
The Windsors, again like many other family businesses, find it difficult to bring outsiders into the family firm. They tend to choose someone whose style is familiar when, in truth, a completely different point of view is required. We saw a perfect example in The Queen, when Tony Blair, with whom the Queen was not particularly comfortable, had the courage to deliver a message that those closer to the monarch seemed unable or unwilling to articulate: "Do something!" You can shoot the messenger, but it is wiser to do that after you have heard what her or she has to say.
In Junor's book, Prince Charles' deputy private secretary, Mark Bolland, was just that person: the regulars at Buckingham Palace couldn't relate to Bolland on a personal level (he didn't ride, hunt or shoot and he hadn't been to Eton) but he was very effective in turning around a difficult situation, particularly as regards the introduction of Camilla Parker-Bowles to the British public.
The crisis that beset the House of Windsor over the matter of Diana, Princess of Wales, was on a grand scale, but was comparable nonetheless to moments of crisis in other family enterprises. Because the royal family is relentlessly in the public eye, they have developed muscles for surviving even the most extreme situations.
"They have no alternative", explains Junor, "but to take the long view, recognising that, long-term, very little matters."
"Nine times out of ten", she continues, "they don't even acknowledge what has happened and, miraculously, the crisis fades."
"It is", she concludes, "a brilliant strategy."
As perhaps the most searing example of this, Junor recalls the revelation of Prince Charles' intimate recorded conversation with Camilla Parker-Bowles, published for all to read in the morning papers. Quite appropriately, to my mind, she notes the incredible courage it must have taken for him to carry on that day with his public engagements. Had he been working in the private sector, Charles might well have taken the day off; instead, the potent mix of family and family business responsibilities influenced his decision to press on.
Even the closest family units weather disagreements, hurt feelings, anger and moments of shame at one time or another, but, like the House of Windsor, families usually repair. There is a commitment and a caring that often supercedes events, and it is this tie that provides the tensile strength in family enterprise and gives it an advantage over other corporate entities.
There could hardly have been a more divisive issue than Diana, her life as the Princess of Wales and her death, but the Windsors absorbed the shock and closed ranks, as most families would do. That is the nature of family, whether they are royal or otherwise. 'The Firm' has moved on and, hopefully, matured and improved in the process.