What do you mean when you talk about nepotism in the family business? Here we go again.

A FEW Q & As SPRING TO MIND. Thoughts from around the world of family business consulting.

Well, nepotism is when a family member is hired in the business because of who they are They do not need to be skilled, experienced or even good at what they do. Scary, isn’t it? It is seen as an entitlement.


I think this is a complex question and very much depends on the family, the business and its employees. It can also align with the values of the business and in this case it would be that family comes first. Rather than business first. Of course this is a personal and individual thought process. Some entrepreneurs categorically refuse to entertain the idea of family being good enough…..Ever.


There are a number of reasons why this can be a positive strategy in the family enterprise: Firstly – it can be far cheaper to hire relatives as they see their roles as a responsibility to contribute to the success of the family firm. They will often be loyal to the Nth degree. Folk see it as their duty and they are also very proud to be associated and part of the family run firm; especially if it spans multi generations. And they are regarded in the local community, their business eco system and valued for their commitment to charitable giving and philanthropy. That’s a whole lot of responsibility to bear on a single persons shoulders.

Secondly – there is more flexibility in the work environment and family life has a role to play in the work life mix. Family members can help each other out whilst remaining dedicated to the work in hand. For example childcare ceases to be an issue a the family will rally round; mentoring on the job by non family work makes is often a given. Looking after senior and elderly family is woven into the fabric of the job.

Thirdly – loyalty and trust are are a given – priceless in a competitive, dog eat dog world. Above all else family expect and will receive both.

In my experience and with speaking with other family firms, there is always room for supporting and encouraging family members who have mental and physical challenges? I can be a place for healing and also for taking risks in innovation. You are encouraged to think big and it is expected that ideas come from family members that can catapult the business into new sectors and markets. The business will be seen to grow and develop through the next generation. When it works well is when the general workforce buy into the family factor with all of its values, legacy and reputation. It is an expectation that the business will embrace the next generation and it generally does.


Family members who are seen to scale the heights of promotion and leadership roles without the proper experience, expertise and respect afforded to them by the workforce. It will be seen as devisive. And often kill any incentive for non-family management to remain loyal, potentially fulfilled and see things other than the job or role given ‘on a plate’. If family are appointed to roles of responsibility without the relevant experience, skills, people and leadership development, then the business will likely fail.


It’s important that no matter if you are family or not, everyone should be in the business because they are the best person for the job. A good way to take out the emotion is to create policies around recruitment of family members, so that everyone is in the picture. It is also then public knowledge as far as the business is concerned. There will be no grey areas. This in turn can be included into the family constitution with the acknowledgement and agreement from all family members. This policy is then referred to for future appointments.


Yes, I consulted to a family where there was an expectation that the son would come into the business. However, at the time the son was living across the other side of the world and not working in the business. Whilst he had the ability to come into the business as the next successor, I felt he wasn’t capable at this time with a downturn in the market. And also having to live up to the expectations of the business and of his own family unit, this was a daunting task. But the tables did turn when he stepped up and decided to make a success of it and undertake leadership training and accepted being mentored. He also worked side by side with other senior management to understand the business through and through. Gradually he took full responsibility and eventually turned the business around. This took guts, determination, commitment and a certain amount of humility. And of course all the hard work, late night working did impact the family too. All expectations have to be managed. Above all it takes integrity, strength of character and mental agility to turn an entitled opportunity into a good business decision.

Who do you think you are?

The year is 1944, imagine if you will, the plains of China, paddy fields and farmers tending their livestock and many acres of rice fields. There is chatter amongst the farmers and children playing and working alongside their parents. The heat of the day is unbearable, but everyone is working hard to plant rice and tend livestock to harvest and take to market. This is the way things have been for thousands of years. Nothing much changes, that’s country living for you.

One day the army arrives in the village and rounds up all the men. They are seen as anti-communist agitators as the Cultural Revolution takes hold of the Country. It’s hard to bring everyone in line, – no telephones, televisions or means of reaching these scattered villages amongst the hills and planes. So something must be done to send a message to the surrounding rural communities.

Men of my grandmother’s community are rounded up and made to dig a huge hole in the surrounding area. It is a very big hole and very deep. All adult males are made to stand at the edge of the hole and they are systematically executed. They are branded as divergent agitators of the Peoples Communist Party. Amongst the crowd that watch in horror is a little 10-year-old girl with her 7 siblings, mum, friends and neighbours. Terrified, nobody knows what is going on, but their menfolk have all been shot.

Lets stay here for a moment to reflect on what had just happened. Imagine the wailing, tears, the smell of gunshot, the palpable taste of fear in the air…….. What just happened?

Fast forward a year. It is l945 and my grandmother and other women in the village round up their children, say their goodbyes and the children who together with many thousands reach the coast to cross the water to Hong Kong. Li Tong is now 11 years old and the eldest of 7 siblings. They are all leaving their mum, families and friends. They are departing from the only life they have only ever known. The plan is one of escape from the rule of the Communist Regime. Many children are shot or drowned during the crossing. But thankfully Li Tong and her 7 siblings survive. They reach Hong Kong, traumatised, cold, frightened and hungry. An aunt is waiting for them and their new lives begin.

So this is me. Hello my name is Anita Brightley-Hodges. I am half Chinese. Li Tong was my mum and she married my dad a soldier based in Hong Kong. I was born in Hong Kong and came to the UK by boat. In those days it took a whole month to travel to England. I have a sister and the two of us grew up as army brats travelling to army basis in Germany and Aiden for the next 10 years of our lives. I never knew of my mum’s other life and trauma until quite recently. Like all mums, she kept things to herself.

But throughout out young lives, education was everything. Absolutely everything. I’m proud to say my sister is at the top of her tree in corporate mobility; having had a career with PWC EY, Barclays Capital and Emigra Worldwide. I chose a very different route and my first job was as a secretary at a Private Bank in London. After a year I thought – is this it? So one day I got off the train at Cannon Street and got right back on it and went home. I knew I was destined for better things.

In 1990 I set up my first business. I formed an international boutique branding agency in London and travelled the world working for huge blue-chip clients: Deutsche Bank, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Glaxo Smithkline, AstraZeneca, Boots, Pret a Monger, HMS, Sony and many others. We were award winning and I loved it. My husband looked after our children and that in itself was quite a thing back in the day. A complete role reversal. We had a good life.

In 2008 I lost everything. Has anyone reading here ever lost a business? It was absolutely the worst time of my life. Every ounce of energy left me. I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. …… In Hong Kong if you can’t make something to sell, then you cook and sell it. I’m a survivor and my determination not to be beat is in my DNA. Fast forward to 2019 I run the leading vibrant membership organisation for UK and Irish family businesses. We support and encourage the next generation of family-run enterprises to succeed. All sizes and in all sectors. Family-run firms are unique, powerful, energised, innovative, determined, future proof and are the single most common business model in the world. They have been for thousands of years.

However, they are riddled with complexity and emotional turmoil. There are husband and wife startups, cousins, siblings who work together. On the face of it what could be more fulfilling than working with people you love and trust? On the other hand there is nothing worse when you can’t leave the business at the office but bring it home seven days a week. A bad day at work can simply shroud family life in despair and worry.

In short, my expertise is to help families understand the nature of family and business. To help them navigate the difficulties around succession, exit, growth, business strategy, sale or investment. As sure as eggs is eggs, we are all going to die. The secret to success is to make sure there is a plan in place for the future. That everyone understands what’s involved and what is expected of them. To be honest, as to why they are in business together. To understand each others strengths and weaknesses. Is it a meritocracy or an autocracy? Why is nepotism such a dirty word? What has love, kindness, patience, support got to do with anything….Nothing ….yet everything.

There are 4.8million family-run firms in the UK. Only 3% make it to the next-gen, only 12% to Gen 3 and only 4% to Gen 4 and beyond. Many are household names: JCB, Swires, Aunt Bessies, Stannah Chair Lifts, Warburtons Bread, Morgan Cars, Wates, Penshurst Pace, Dyson, Virgin Group, Tunnocks, Fortnum & Masons, Shepherds Purse Cheese, Westons Cider, Shepherd Neame, Specsavers and Boohoo – the list goes on.

My passion is to be the turn to a specialist for any family-run enterprises who are stuck. I can help. I hold an advanced certificate in family advising and in mediation. I am a useful NED, coach, mentor, strategist and especially helping families transition from one generation to the next. In today’s new economy, I understand that with every generation there are different agendas, aspirations, opportunities which all need to be embraced. My job is to protect the family in light of the business. You can always get another business, but you can’t get another family. It’s also amazing what you can achieve one step at a time.

I took the time to discover who I am, and why I am the way I am. It has revealed so much about my appetite for achievement, hard work, sacrifice, the importance of family and for survival. Do you know who you are?

It takes a village to raise a child

A year ago I attended our local Church Away Day. We do this every year and it’s a wonderful get together for sharing, enjoying each other’s company and for breathing new life and ideas into the Church Family. How can we make our faith relevant in the everyday lives of our local community? How can we reach out? How can we be useful? In today’s very secular society, Christianity and in particular Churches are in danger of becoming ‘not for me’. Yet my faith is something I cherish and thrive on.

Okay so without being a Bible basher I looked at my experience, skills and how I could help others. I wanted to give back and be able to own and drive something of value. I wanted to do something that needed little organising and with just a few helpers. And so ‘THIRD TUESDAY was hatched. From my own experience coaching young talent, giving work experience to kids at school and mapping out futures for friends of my own children, I found that for every smart, off the blocks, ready willing and energised to go seek, find and enjoy their future cookie, there are those who have little or no confidence and don’t know where to begin. I too didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school. More importantly, I had no one to ask me ‘If you could wave a magic wand Anita, what would bring you the greatest happiness’? ‘What dreams do you have’?

The thing about running a family business is that it’s local. You are part of your local business, family, school, faith community. We all have ideas about being big, going global and so on. What’s needed from you is often under your nose. We say ‘what can I do’? ‘What if’? We decide to do something and then make it happen. We are all busy, and there is never enough time. I love that those who can, do.

THIRD TUESDAY is a relaxed meet-up for youngsters 16+ to tap into advice and support on options for the future. It’s exclusively for students who may be in school, college, university and don’t know what do do next.  We explore future options ie Uni, apprenticeships, college and careers. They can learn practical skills and tools for CV building, create that fab profile, prep for an interview, learn how to fill in application forms. They get great ‘you’ time, advice, training, mentorship and peer-to-peer support. But the hook – the meet-up is a safe place to share your troubles. Share what pressure looks like, money worries, how to build confidence and why take a risk?

I sat in our Church Centre with tea, cake, flip chart, sticky labels and pens not knowing who if anyone would turn up. To my surprise, they came! My wonderful friend Jenny helped out and my beautiful daughter Olympia agreed to be our very first speaker. She was to bare all. Her own journey from School to where she is now working in our own family business has been emotional and colourful for sure. And what an ice breaker. The group said they were embarrassed and frightened about pitching up. They had no clue what to expect but had nothing to lose. My heart went out to them and suffice it to say the evening proved a great success. I even gave them all homework! Let’s see who turns up next month. We will have another real-life story from someone who’s confidence rose from rock bottom and now leading a life they want.

Confidence was a the biggest issue for everyone. Compounded by social media, parents, expectations, peers; it seemed all compared themselves and in so doing had decided they didn’t stand a chance. I’ve got a really successful method of building confidence instantly. I will share it at another date. For now, I’m grateful, joyful and hopeful I can make a difference. It’s worth the risk. As Richard Branson once said ‘The biggest risk is not taking any risk’. Note to anyone reading this and is hesitant – just do it; because you can.


Nepotism – so what?

It’s rare when someone gets the opportunity to talk about their family business that we get to know the person they really are. Recently I listened to a talk where the speaker, a family member, mesmerised us with ‘Me and my Aspergers’ This is an amazing man who left corporate employment to join his family business because he was fed up of being bullied, belittled and thought of as strange. He has high functioning autism – that means he is a genius! He told his story: Finding my way, proving the sceptics wrong, the love of my life, my big break, parenthood, getting diagnosed, joining the family business, the benefits of autism, the future, helping others, practicing mindfulness and being around positive people. He had a few wobbles, was articulate, we listened. He spoke of his success and how he flourished in the family business environment. By merit, he is the IT expert, dealing with internal IT, troubleshooting and managing clients. His autism he said was a benefit – he is totally focussed on the job at hand and won’t let go until it is finished and perfect. Wow, that’s what I call quality control – in this day and age – priceless!

How do you split a lemon?

Conflict in a family business goes with the territory. It’s the thing that produces creativity and innovation. It can be the impetus for change and can lead to breakthroughs in ideas. In fact, it can be a good thing. On the other hand and especially within a family business it can be destructive, divisive, alienating, heartbreaking, and worst still it is insidious and has far-reaching effects within the wider family and through the generations. We all know the stories of famous household named family firms that have endured embittered battles and even murder: Samsung, L’Oreal, Thorntons Chocolates, Adidas & Puma, Gucci to name but a few.

So how can families resolve conflict? Where to begin? MEDIATION is one way of resolving conflicts. Traditional ways include:

  • Fight: physically, verbally or legally. The strongest, most articulate or wealthy mostly win
  • Negotiate: not everyone is good at negotiating. Emotions can get in the way. People find it difficult to hear what the other person is saying. They often have preconceived ideas and misperceptions about others
  • Go to arbitration: let someone else make the decisions
  • Runaway or give in

MEDIATION provides a way forward that enables people to negotiate based upon a proper understanding of the needs of all parties. These negotiations are based upon what is fair and reasonable and upon the needs of everyone. It seeks a ‘WIN-WIN’ outcome. MEDIATORS can help parties to work together on solutions and to see their dispute as a shared problem that needs to be resolved. In short, the process of MEDIATION is fairly simple. Meet, listen, feedback, explain options and agree on next steps. If only things were as simple as that!

QUESTION: How would you split a lemon? https://anitabrightleyhodges.com/services/family-issues/

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