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A Family Affair

Barbara Bensoussan

What happens when the second generation enters Dad’s business?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It’s an old cliché immortalized in New Yorker-style comics: A father stands with his son before the big picture window in his office, overlooking the warehouses and smokestacks of an enormous factory. With one hand on the boy’s shoulder, the other raised in a sweeping gesture, the father announces in stentorian tones: “Someday, my boy, this all will be yours.” Most people who start successful businesses do so not only to feed their families, but in the hope of being able to leave a thriving legacy for the next generation. According to the Small Business Administration, about 90 percent of US businesses are family owned or controlled. But what happens when the next generation — the erstwhile son in the cartoon — comes of age and the reins of power must be shared, and eventually transferred? What happens if the generations don’t see eye to eye, or siblings jostle for ascendency? How do parents distribute assets among children who may or may not be working for the business? Family businesses can channel a family’s talents and group loyalty to major achievements. But family business conflicts can also undo the hard work of decades in bitter fights of operatic proportions and length. With potential triumphs on one hand and intergenerational mishaps on the other, how can pitfalls be avoided and potential to excel maximized?

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