More Thoughts About Family Businesses

Last week I published a note from a reader. She had written in to say that she was thinking about family businesses and wondering why most of them do not survive past their third generation. She supplied some possible answers to this, along with further questions.

Another reader commented on this note, pointing out that sometimes family business owners discourage their children from entering the business. They push them away.

What’s that about? There are many possibilities.

It might mean that the business’ head decision maker grew up in a dysfunctional family; the business had added another divisive instrument. Now, as the family patriarch—or matriarch, he/she does want the children to suffer the same experience. So the children are steered away from the family business.

Or perhaps it means that there’s love in the family and the parents want a better life for their children than they have had for themselves. For example, the greengrocer on the corner wants his children to become successful professionals; doctors and lawyers. The parents don’t want their children to have work the same long, hard hours as they did, and for so little money.

Or perhaps the children are girls. Their father wants to pass his business on to the next generation—and still, in this day and age, not to daughters.

Perhaps, success in a family business can be measured in terms of the growth and prosperity of the owner’s progeny; the family’s succeeding generations, and not the business itself.