Four must-read family business books

Finding your way can be tricky. Image: Ordnance Survey/Mike Calder/Wikimedia Commons. 

Finding your way can be tricky. Image: Ordnance Survey/Mike Calder/Wikimedia Commons. 

Many business books are published each year, but few of them are about family businesses. Here are four recent releases which are well worth getting hold of. 

The Family Business Map: Assets and Roadblocks in Long-Term Planning

By Morten Bennedsen of INSEAD and Joseph PH Fan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Published by Palgrave MacMillan. 

What is it about? Two of the best-known family business academics join forces to create a “framework” for long-term planning and succession and aims to provide a “blueprint” drawing on the common features that unite families in business, while respecting the individual differences.

The book is impressively global in scope taking in an A-Z of case-studies from Chief MKO Abiola of Nigeria to the Zhejiang Longsheng Group from China, via a fantastically varied group including the likes of Faber-Castell, Levi-Strauss and Tata.

It’s a wonderful piece of work that crams dozens of fascinating case-studies and an awful lot of accumulated wisdom into its 236 pages ranging from the prosaic to the positively Zen.

“Study water,” says Zengoro Hoshi of the 1,300-year-old family-owned Hoshi Ryokan inn when asked the secret of long-term management. “Water has a well-defined mission and constantly invests in improving the efficiency of its path.”

Who is it for? Anybody facing succession, and especially those with no previous experience of transitioning leadership from one generation to the next - which means pretty much all Asian and Middle Eastern families.

In a nutshell? Sustainable family businesses know what they are trying to achieve, and create efficient, flexible governance structures that help do it.

Myths and Mortals: Family Business Leadership and Succession Planning

By Andrew Keyt, executive director of the Next Generation Leadership Institute at Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business. Published by Wiley. 

What is it about? How do people from the biggest business families deal with taking over from an illustrious parent? The way Keyt sees it, they are “born into a story already being told about their parents, their families, and businesses”.

Successful parents take on a mythic quality for their children, who feel like mere mortals in comparison. Their parents’ success can seem “magical” and impossible to replicate. Through interviews with successors from the Wrigley, Taittinger, Hefner, Ferragamo and other families, Keyt asks how successors can step out of their parents’ shadows.

The answer? Successors need to “demystify” their predecessors, realise that they were mortal too and that their success was down to hard work. They have to understand their own talents and experiences and find a way to re-invent the business in their own image.

Who is it for? Next gens, or indeed anybody who wants to understand the big beasts in business dynasties and what makes them tick.

In a nutshell? Do it your way.

Engaged Ownership: A Guide for Owners of Family Businesses

By Amelia Renkert-Thomas, consultant and fifth-generation member of a family business. Published by Wiley. 

What’s it about? It’s a detailed, practical guide to “integrating owners into the decision-making fabric of the company to carry on the family’s legacy, vision and strategic direction”.

Too many advisers tell business families that they should step back and let their managers run the companies. That is one way of avoiding conflict, of course, but owners should not believe that they are just a dysfunctional encumbrance to the smooth running of the enterprise.

Founding families should be deeply involved, by being “engaged owners” who create a “shared purpose” and a “collective vision for the future” that "sustains and builds the capital that has been created.” Capital comes in several guises: financial, human and enterprise.

Conceptually, that sounds simple. Where this book comes into its own is the very detailed and nuanced description of how this might work in practice. For instance, how should the Family Assembly, Owners Council, Board of Directors interact?

Who is it for? People who want to bring more structure into their family enterprise, so that the family values are entrenched.

In a nutshell? Take a step back, think hard about what you want to do, then put the systems in place that can help you achieve it.

Build Your Family Bank: A Winning Vision for Multigenerational Wealth

By Emily Griffiths-Hamilton, third-generation Canadian business family member, and financial advisor. Published by Figure 1.

What’s it about? The author’s own experience informs the way she thinks about wealth and family businesses. Emily Griffiths-Hamilton’s grandfather made his fortune with canned dog-food, her father owned an ice-hockey team and media businesses, and she is a financial advisor.

The idea, then, is that families should not be afraid to use their wealth to re-create the business in each generation. She uses the concept of the Family Bank, “the custodian of the family’s wealth: its human, intellectual and financial assets”.

What is unique is her clear-eyed view of money: as a financial advisor she knows that all forecasts about wealth are based on assumptions. She spends more time in this book talking about the importance of helping children grow and develop useful skills which will, after all, be more useful than money in helping them live a fulfilling life.

Who’s it for? Families who are keen to ensure their children can stand on their own two feet.

In a nutshell? Money is useful, but values more so.


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