Summer must-reads for family businesses

By Katie Barker

There is a multitude of literature available on all aspects of family businesses, from tales of the famous dynasties to advice on succession planning. Katie Barker details three must-read summer releases. 

High Financier: The life and Time of Siegmund Warburg by Niall Ferguson

In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, banks have faced much scrutiny over their conduct, practices and morals in the lead up to the meltdown. Sub-prime mortgages, Madoff and sovereign debt have all become very regular parts of our vocabulary and many wonder how the financial institutions they had trusted with their money could be so reckless.

It is therefore timely that Niall Ferguson should choose this climate in which to release his biography of Siegmund Warburg. Described as "an extraordinary man whose philosophy of finance was the antithesis of the debt-fuelled, algorithm-driven banking of our time," Warburg was the patriarch behind SG Warburg and Co merchant bank.

The book covers Warburg's rise to prominence in post-war City of London and is largely based on 10,000 previously unavailable letters and diary entries from Warburg himself. Having escaped Hitler's Germany in the 1930s, Warburg was one of the architects of European financial integration who then went on to set up SG Warburg merchant bank. In setting up this financial institution, Warburg took many lessons from his family bank in Germany that came close to collapsing in the 1930s under the stewardship of Warburg's uncle Max Warburg.

Unfortunately for Warburg, his own legacy was eroded and business practices abandoned after his death in 1982. SG Warburg became less and less profitable and was eventually swallowed up by the Swiss Bank Corporation in 1994, which in turn was integrated into UBS in 1997.

In this biography, Ferguson outlines the character of Warburg as a man of strict ethics, meticulous business methods and someone who felt Americans were more gamblers than bankers. These characteristics may have seemed outdated and old fashioned just five years ago, but now many may wish their bankers were more like Sigemund Warburg. 

Family Business Models: Practical Solutions for the Family Business by Alberto Gimeno, Gemma Baulenas and Joan Coma-Cros 

In contrast to the detailed biography of the demise of a dynasty by Ferguson, Family Business Models aims to avoid the breakdown of family relationships when families work together in business. Through a new model for understanding family business based on recent research, the book aims to maximise the families potential for success through this enhanced understanding of relationships.

It provides a roadmap families can follow in order to maintain a balanced relationship between the family and the company, and to ensure satisfactory business results. It also offers practical tools for senior managers and family heads to help the business define where it currently stands and how best it can move forward. 

Its three authors have a multitude of experience advising and educating families of substantial wealth. Alberto Gimeno is associate professor at ESADE Business School, where he co-ordinates the Family Business Programme, Gemma Baulenas is a professor of family therapy and works regularly with the executive education centre of ESADE and Joan Coma-Cros is one of the founding partners of applied research company Family Business Knowledge.

Transgenerational Entrepreneurship: Exploring Growth and Performance in Family Firms Across Generations by Mattias Nordqvist and Thomas Zellweger

Entrepreneurship is not always a quality associated with family businesses that make it beyond the second generation, instead they are often viewed as conservative stewards of the family legacy. Transgenerational Entrepreneurship addresses this notion and attempts to show how businesses can achieve growth and indeed longevity thought entrepreneurialism.

It focuses on how families can be and often are entrepreneurial across generations through the resources they have, their capabilities and the mindset that families develop. The editors use a set of empirical, case-based research papers that investigate transgenerational entrepreneurship in different European contexts alongside detailed explanations of the theory behind the ideas.

Mattias Nordqvist is co-director of Centre for Family Enterprise and Ownership at the Jonkoping International Business School and Thomas Zellweger is the managing director of the Centre for Family Business at the University of St Gallen.

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