Tackling global crises one family business at a time: A toolkit for responsible ownership
It can be understandable that the multi-generational owners of family businesses with revenues above USD 1 billion are reluctant to speak to outsiders or remain guarded and on-script when they do. Their billion-dollar businesses are high-profile, their wealth and perceived power inspires both scrutiny and voyeurism, and the entwinement of business and family interests are tropes in literature, theatre, and cinema, from the Bible to '演替'.
很明显,我大business-owningfamilies tell strikingly consistent narratives about themselves. These narratives manifest in the speech, actions, and rituals of family owners and their service providers, and work to create a clear and aspirational vision of owners as actors who care for their communities and workers in ways that non-family-owned businesses do not. These narratives are consequential because—regardless of whether they are true or false—they become the basis for actions in the world, from political lobbying regarding inheritance taxes to corporate marketing campaigns to a family’s complacency regarding the impacts of their business on the world.
Ultimately, I identified seven narratives that continually surfaced in conversations, sidebars, business meetings, peer learning events, and communications (social media posts, webinars, reports, first-person published narratives) written by and for the large family business community.
- Family business is a force for good
- We have a long-term orientation
- Family owners are uniquely agile
- Employees prefer working in a family-owned business and our employees are like family
- We care about our community
These narratives, among the billion-dollar business demographic, transcended geography and sector. They constituted a grammar that family members drew on to explain themselves to themselves, to each other, and to the outside world. But global challenges — from climate change to wealth inequality, to pandemics — require not just aspiration, but empirical proof of responsibility from the families’ core operating businesses. And not only was reliance on empirical proof to uphold or justify the narratives a glaring “social silence,” but the narratives were bolstered by a number of assumptions and logics that contained important clues to the family’s values, beliefs, and practices – and where there is scope for change.
Family business owners do have the ability to drive change by evaluating and rethinking their own narratives. Bold and even radical changes to improve their performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are needed. But such radical change is not without precedent: my observations also yielded examples of bold or idiosyncratic practices of family businesses and professional service providers that can serve as inspiration to others.
In the Toolkit for Responsible Ownership, every narrative is matched with action items to bridge the gap between aspiration and reality.
Three examples of narratives and actions
One, to realise the aspiration of being a force for good and start addressing inequalities their ownership has benefitted from or is exacerbating, family owners can:
挖掘并承认您业务核心的复杂历史，并将其链接到当前和未来的业务策略。改变需要意识和接受。在家族企业的背景下，这意味着了解您的全部遗产并将其整合到当今的行动中。无论是家庭参与，还是源自独裁政权，奴隶制，战争，种族灭绝或其他暴力事件的商业利润 - 历史悠久的家族企业都可能会带来令人不安和有问题的过去。调试研究或档案调查可以帮助您做出新的公司和慈善承诺，并使您的家人对其遗产有更诚实的了解。
Two, if leveraging the long-term potential of family ownership is a genuine goal, families can:
一个人拥有的知识。创建一个公司的计划m the next generation of the assets they currently own or will inherit. The absence of a plan to inform the next generation of the assets they currently own or inherit is surprisingly common. Considering oneself a steward presumes the eventual readiness of the next generation to inherit and serve as stewards themselves. This is difficult to-impossible when next generation members do not know what they are stewarding. Future inheritors must be fluent in upcoming forms of ownership and what these forms enable and constrain.
As the realities behind family narratives become increasingly scrutinised, families with billion-dollar companies and their service providers need new ways of approaching intergenerational ownership, including assumptions and taboo topics. The Toolkit for Responsible Ownership offers a starting point.