Be careful what you wish for

For all strengths that a family business has, they are fragile in their way. Issues, if left unresolved, can impact severely upon each other; eventually creating chasms that can become too wide to bridge. At their worst the consequences can devastate a family beyond repair for generations. With wealthy families, their business empires will affect global trade and local communities.  With the ever changing fast moving internet of things, the differences between the generations can be trickier that ever to reconcile.

Family businesses have been in existence since before the middle ages, there is nothing new under the sun as Shakespeare’s King Lear describes.

The opening scene begins with Lear pitting his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia against one another in a show of their love and devotion to him. The prize is the inheritance of a third of the kingdom for each. However, Lear openly fawns on Cordelia, unabashedly naming her as his favourite and in line to be given the richest third of the Kingdom.  Form her, Lear expects the greatest display of love.

Goneril and Regan, having grown up knowing that they are second in their father’s eyes, have no compunction about manipulating the truth about their feelings for their father. Their professions of undivided devotion are convincing and appealing to Lear’s vanity. But their words are hollow, their intentions greedy. Cordelia on the other hand truly adores her father and refuses to lie to him. She says he cannot claim all of her love, since half should be reserved for her future husband. Even faced with the prospect of risking her inheritance, she remains true to herself. Lear consumed with anger banishes Cordelia from family and assets.

The kingdom is now split equally between Goneril and Regan.  With their appetite for power sated, they have no further need to please their father, he who pitted sister against sister. Lear becomes a burden and abandoned to walk the wilderness alone, the natural order of succession has been disrupted with catastrophic consequences.

Lear is lost and bewildered and eventually finds himself seeking shelter with Cordelia and her husband, who is at war with another state. They eventually become prisoners of war, with Lear dying of grief after Cordelia is put to death. What is more, back in Lear’s own kingdom, Goneril has committed suicide, but before poisoning her sister.

By the play’s end, the entire family has been completely eradicated, some at each other’s hand. As a result of the Lear’s vanity, pride, rash anger, need for control and lack of empathy or consideration for his own daughters, the kingdom and all of its wealth is left divided and run by a foreign duke and the remaining earls and lords.

A tragedy indeed, written some four centuries ago. But the palpability of Shakespeare’s works go hand in hand with their timelessness. Fast forward to today and we see this scenario is still relevant in many modern family run enterprises.

Unspoken control, egotism, nepotism, favouritism, greed, vanity are huge barriers to the successful transition from one generation to another- but if recognised early enough, and defeated with consideration, love, care, awareness and respect, tragedy can be avoided.