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Family Business Brothers In Arms

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Brothers at Arms – Am I my Brother’s Keeper

The first story ever of sibling rivalry is shown in the rivalry between Cain and Abel. To the extent that Cain finally took his brother’s life.

The story of Cain and Abel will forever paint a gloomy picture of sibling relationships, especially between same sex siblings, where competition for resources and attention is very high.

This is however not the case, because we know that siblings can work together wonderfully well. There are good genetic reasons for siblings to stick together. This range from the fact that they have more common interests than either of them has with outsiders.

The truth of about the dynamics of siblings is that they come into conflict when they are locked in a single space sharing resources to achieve the same goal – as there can only be one top dog. Where siblings are able to differentiate themselves and find their own space, it seems easier.

As such siblings of opposite sex find peaceful co-existence easier than same-sex siblings. Also it is easier when there is a big age gap. It is helpful if they exhibit different characters, styles and needs.

It is important to note that there could be great rivalry where the age gap of same-sex siblings is close and they both desire to succeed in the same territory. For most siblings in this category, their territory is usually identity.

This rivalry can mean and do much for family businesses. It can either create a healthy family business where siblings are able to reach an accommodation that does not violate the interest of either sibling. Often this will be the acceptance by one of the other as the acknowledged leader; however this is never always the case.

The recipe for family war or peace around siblings is a combination of character, age spacing and circumstances that allow them to be aligned in some formation other than conflict. It is important to note that parents play a big part – often they do this unwittingly by fuelling the potential for conflict by how they reward, punish and label their children.

It is this writer’s belief that though family businesses are huge contributors to the economy of most countries, the founders of these businesses must address the following during their life-time in order to ensure business continuity and sustainability  of such business(es);

  • Destructive Redress – When the founders or the previous generation leave the question of succession in the hands of their descendants, it should be expected that at times one group will not get along with the new chosen leader.
  • The Myth of Unity – When founders or the previous generation rather than plan for proper succession, they lived in the fairytale that irrespective of what happens there will always be unity amongst siblings by the time they are no longer around. It is important to understand the fact that individuality of siblings can lead to higher ambitions within a shared space.
  • Racing for Supremacy – for family businesses, it is important that siblings consider characters before they get into the grove of working together. This is because where you are both happy just living together, it might get difficult when you have to also work and make business decisions together and decide who really is the leader.
  • Bitter Cup – Many a times, the founders of family businesses tend to place siblings in open competition with each other. This may lead to bringing a wedge between both siblings rather than healthy collaboration. Also sometimes, it is necessary for founders to completely take a back sit and let the new leaders take charge and act out their part, rather than sowing bitterness in their minds through negative remarks of not meeting to their standard.
  • Vintage Conflicts – Sometimes, founders of family businesses start off by understanding the nature and style of business operations that works for them. Though there is rivalry, as they move on they realize that there is the need to move the business to new heights by creating new styles of managing the business without losing their foresight that it is still a family business. The siblings knowing their strengths and weaknesses agree to bring in the right caliber of people who will help create the needed growth whilst still ensuring that the basic concept of how the business should be is not lost.

In conclusion, it is important that parents and siblings are able to understand their short-comings in preparing future family business owners for the challenges to come. Things like poor parental role modelling, deficiencies in emotional intelligence, bad decision about children’s role in business and unchecked (sometimes even encouraged) rivalry between siblings may produce patterns that lead to fundamental hazards on the survival of family business(es).

Finally, it is necessary for family businesses (from one generation to the other) to understand what role children and/or siblings will play to ensure that the businesses remain in existence by letting them create their own identity. Where they feel they have no intentions of managing the business in future, then it is important that you start to build them towards directing and supervising the business by selecting the right persons to manage the day to day affairs whilst they sit on the Board either as Directors or Advisers.

For family businesses, the motto should be “Brothers in Arms” rather than “Brothers at Arms” as it will always be better for most of the wealth to stay within the family and continue to generate more wealth for the family.

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