This week contained a flashback for me. I was a guest speaker at a University business school, five hours down the highway. There I was, standing before a group of students getting ready to soon begin their careers, much like I was “just” 30 or so years ago.
Invited by two colleagues/friends who teach “Managing the family Enterprise”, I had sent along copies of my favourite book, SHIFT your Family Business, so that the students could be prepared to ask whatever they wanted of its author.
I began by asking the students if they felt lucky (no, not because I was in their presence). To my surprise, heads began nodding, even before I shared my thoughts about why they were in fact quite lucky to be sitting where they were.
I related my story of being in their shoes in the 1980’s, getting ready to work in my family’s business, but doing so without the benefit of a single course related to Family Business.
This was no slight to my alma mater, it was more about the timeframe. I explained that the Family Firm Institute just celebrated its 30th year in 2016, and CAFÉ (Canadian Association of Family Enterprise) also had its 30th recently. This “field” is still quite new.
I also shared one of my favourite stories about my Dad, who had joined CAFÉ in those early years, and his reaction to the great advice he’d heard from the advisors at those earliest CAFÉ events.
It was quite à propos in this setting, as these were undergraduate business students, like I had been at the time, many preparing to join their family companies in the coming years.
“We’re not gonna do that”
“You know, these people at CAFÉ”, I related my Dad’s words, like it was yesterday, “they say that you shouldn’t hire your kids right out of school, you should make them get a ‘real’ job first”, he said, as I nodded, hopefully. “Well, we’re not gonna do that”, he continued, patting me on the shoulder.
For effect, I acted it out with a student in the front row.
I also added that not standing up to him and questioning him, and not suggesting that I would like to pursue that option, turned into one of my biggest regrets.
Case Study: Corleone Family
The class uses one family business case for the entire semester, and this year’s choice is the Corleone family, of Godfather fame. “Cool!” I thought, as I learned this fact during a call with one of the instructors a week prior.
I really enjoyed doing “my homework”, watching the movies over the weekend so I could contribute to class. I hadn’t seen them in decades, and had forgotten how Vito actually stepped aside, letting Michael take over decision-making without second-guessing him, well before his unfortunate demise.
This class also featured a group presentation on Family Governance, and I have to admit that I got a kick out of the fact that the team used a quote from my book on one of their Powerpoint slides, with attribution, and my name spelled correctly.
Last week I wrote about the Queen and Prince Charles, and now the Godfather, what’s next? (Hint: more on Family Governance).
Should Have Refused
Back to the title of this post, courtesy of Vito Corleone, likely recognizable to most readers.
The reason I use it here is to underscore that I now recognize that the key word in the sentence is “can’t”.
More and more these days, kids are in fact refusing their parents’ offers to join the family business. To me, that is a good thing.
I should have refused too, but I didn’t. It would have been better for me, and actually better for the whole family, but it did not fit the shorter-term plan of the patriarch.
Love of “Business” vs Love of “My Business”
In response to a question from the class, I suggested that I strongly support teaching the “NextGen” about “business”, and even to “love” business, as part of “financial literacy” and to pass along the entrepreneurial family spirit.
But loving “business” and loving “this particular business that Dad started” isn’t the same thing.
Imagine if Michael Corleone had been able to use his great skills in the truly legit ways he had hoped, without the family baggage…