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antithesisofprofessionallymanagedfirms—nepotistic,irrationalbecauseofthefamily
influence,secretive,andsmallandinsignificant.Giventherecentlydocumentedout-
standingperformanceoffamily firmsrelativetomanagement-controlled firmsthese
assumptionswouldappeartobeindireneedofasubstantialupdate.
47
SUMMARY
1 Family businesses are the e primary y engine of economic c growth and vitality in free
economiesallovertheworld.Beinguniqueintheirattributes,theyarealsouniqueinthe
assetsandvulnerabilitiesthattheybringtothemarketplace.
2 Familybusinessesconstitutethewholegamutofenterprisesinwhichanentrepreneuror
next-generationCEOandoneormorefamilymembersinfluencethefirmviatheir par-
ticipation,theirownershipcontrol,theirstrategicpreferences,andthecultureandvalues
theyimparttotheenterprise.
3 Familybusinessesthathavebeenbuilttolastrecognizethetensionbetweenpreserving
andprotectingthecoreofwhathasmadethebusinesssuccessfulandpromotinggrowth
andadaptationtochangingcompetitivedynamics.
4 TheDiscoveryActionResearchprojectisalongitudinalstudywhosefindingssuggestboth
safeguardsthatcanpreventhigheragencycostsandresourcesandcapabilitiesthatcan
provideuniquebenefitstofamilyfirms.
5 Inthesystemstheory y approach,thefamily firmis modeledas comprising threeover-
lapping,interacting,andinterdependentsubsystemsoffamily,management,andown-
ership,makingpossiblesignificantadaptivecapacityandcompetitiveadvantagethrough
jointoptimization.
6 Agencytheoryhastraditionallysuggested d thattheoverlapinownership andmanage-
mentfoundinfamilyfirmsisanasset.
7 Morerecently,agencytheoryhasbeenusedtoarguethatfamilyfirmshaveoneofthemore
costlyformsoforganization.Increasedagencycostsresultfromtheowner-managers’inability
tomanageconflict,executiveentrenchment,lackofperformancemonitoring,andaprefer-
enceforlessbusinessrisk,amongotherthings.Afirm’sboardisanimportantmechanismfor
limiting managers’ self-serving behavior r in n situations in which a firm’s managers s and its
ownershaveconflictinggoals.
8 Theresource-basedview w offamilybusinesses holds thatcompetitiveadvantagesresult
from:(1)overlappingresponsibilitiesofownersandmanagersandsmallcompanysize,
enablingrapidspeedtomarket;(2)focusoncustomersandmarket niches,resultingin
higher returns oninvestment; (3) concentrated ownership structure,leading to higher
corporateproductivity;(4)desiretoprotect thefamilynameandreputation,translating
into high-quality products/services;and(5)family–ownership–managementinteraction,
familyunity,andownershipcommitment,supportingpatientcapital,loweradministrative
costs, skills/knowledge transfer between generations, and agility in n rapidly y changing
markets.Aprescribedset ofmanagementandgovernancepractices willhelpthefirm
capitalizeontheseresources.
9 Thestewardshipperspectiveonfamilyfirmsarguesthat t responsibleownership byany
givengenerationischaracterizedbyitscommitmenttosomethinglargerthantheindi-
vidual(e.g.,thefamilyclan)andbyitsdedicationtopassingahealthyfirmontothenext
47
SeeDaily&Dollinger,op.cit.;andJames,H.,OwnerasManager,ExtendedHorizonsandtheFamily
Firm.InternationalJournaloftheEconomicsofBusiness,6(1),1999.
24
FAMILY BUSINESS
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generation.Appreciationofthelegacy,advocacyfortheongoingconcern,andadvisors
onaboardthatcomplementthefamily’scompetencysetareoftenpresentinfamilyfirms
withthisperspective.
10 Thereisnowcompellingevidencethatfamilyfirmsoutperformnonfamilyfirms.Studies
haveclaimedthat as familyfirms grow,their performanceadvantageremains in effect
onlyifprofessionalizationofthemanagementofthefirmhasbeenachievedandaboard
thatprovidesadviceandindependentoversightispresent.
CHAPTER THENATURE
,
IMPORTANCE
,
ANDUNIQUENESS OF F FAMILY BUSINESS
25
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CHAPTER
2
G
REAT
F
AMILIES IN
B
USINESS
:B
UILDING
T
RUST AND
C
OMMITMENT
BobReardonisfedupwithhisseven brothersand sisters.Theirbusinesshadaccu-
mulatedcashforanacquisitionthatBobbelievedcould“make”thecompany,buthis
siblingsvoteddividendsforthemselvesinstead.ReardonSupplyisa$100-million-a-
year manufacturer owned equally by the e Reardon siblings.Presidentsince e his dad
retirednineyearsago,Bob,49,hasdoneasuperlativejob,increasingrevenuessev-
enfold, organizing g an outside board of directors, , and installing g strategic c planning
companywide.
AlthoughReardonSupplyisveryefficient,hasnodebt,andisveryliquid,itsgrowth
rateisslowing.Itscompetition(nolongerlocalcompaniesbutnationalandinterna-
tional conglomerates) is squeezing margins, and more of f its s customers s are e going
overseas. Running g at capacity, , it needs extensive e capital expenditures to stay
competitive.
AllofBob’ssiblingsaresettledincareersandlivesoutsideReardonSupply.Lately,
somehavebecomeconcernedabouttheirgenerallackofliquidityanddiversification,
and have expressed an interest t in n cashing out. . Others seemto o resentBob’s s salary,
althoughthey’reverygladtohave“oneoftheirown”incharge.Inparticular,Bob’s
oldersister,Nancy,believeshe isoverpaid.Herhusband,Phil,isthepresidentofa
publiccompany.AlthoughPhil’scompanydwarfsReardon,Reardonismoreprofit-
able,andBobearnsmorethanPhil.
Afamilycouncilmeetingiscomingupsoon.Onceagain,Bobisfacedwithsiblings
whodonotwanttohearthatReardonSupply’sworldischanging.Heknowshehasto
dosomething,butwhat?
1
Secrecy,lackofinformation,lowlevelsoffamilyemotionalintelligence(orinability
torecognizeourownfeelingsandthoseofothersandtomanageouremotionsand
relationshipswith others),andlittleknowledgeofthebusinessamongatleastsome
family members s all threaten commitment by y the e family y to the continuity of a
1
Poza,E.,ed.,ShareholdersattheCrossroads.FamilyFirmInstituteCaseStudySeries.Nation'sBusiness,
May1991,p.65.
27
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family-controlledcorporation.Thesedeficitsmaybetheresultofafoundingculture
thatsupportedautocraticleadershipandcontrolorareincarnationofthiscultureina
later generation. Or they may arise e from the family’s s belief in n the many espoused
benefitsofprivacy:flexibilityandstealthinrelationtocompetitors,minimizationoftax
liabilities,andmanagementofexpectationsofrelatives,nonfamilyemployees,andeven
unionizedworkers.
Afteryears oftheincumbentgenerationnotcommunicatingandeditingand/or
hidingfinancialstatements,profitmargins,cashflows,andmarketshareinformation,
theabilityofyoungerfamilymanagerstosubstantivelyassistinthemanagementofthe
enterprise, not to mention n to become capable successors, , is eroded.Whatever the
intentoftheCEO,yearsofrequestingsignatureswiththeall-too-familiar“Justsign
here”andbeingsecretiveaboutfinancialandestate-planninginformationundermine
thecommitmentofthespouseandthenow-adultchildrentothedreamofhavingthe
enterprisecontinuefromgenerationtogeneration.
Thepresenceofthefamilyistheessentialdifferencebetweenafamilybusinessand
other forms of enterprise, whether ownership shares are e privately y held or publicly
tradedbutwithfamilycontrol.Themostrecentfamily-businessliteraturecitedinthis
chapterhighlightstherolethatthefamilyanditscultureplayincreatingbothorga-
nizationalchallengesanduniquecompetitiveadvantages.Inthepast,researchersand
educators in n the field ofbusiness s have largely ignored d thefamily asa a fundamental
variableintheirresearchandteaching.Thisisdetrimentaltobothourunderstanding
offamilyfirmsandofthemanagementoffirmsingeneral,giventhat90percentof
businessesin the United States s are family businesses,employing 59 9 percent t of the
workforceandaccountingfor49percentofthecountry’sgrossdomesticproduct.
2
To
alargeextentthen,modelsandtheoriesofmanagementhavebeenlessrobustandless
generalizablethanneededbymanagementscience,aneminentlypragmaticdiscipline
andfieldofstudy.
3
Infact,manywidelyusedbusiness-schoolcasesinstrategy,mar-
keting,andorganizationalbehaviorlikeSteinberg,Inc.,Zara,JBoats,andCorning,
Inc.andwidelyreadbusinessbookslikeBuilttoLast
4
andGoodtoGreat
5
eithertotally
ignoreoronlycasuallyacknowledgethepresenceofanowningfamily.
Perhapseven moresurprisingisthateveninthefamily-businessliterature,family
members who o are not t active in the e management t of the family y business are often
ignored in n the e process s of f understanding or r describing g the business. . Nevertheless,
familymemberswhodonotparticipateinthemanagementofthebusinessoftenhave
significantinfluenceon the deliberations,decisions,andlong-term processesof the
family-owned or r family-controlled d corporation.
6
And when these e members’ per-
spectives and contributions are e not considered, , not deemed legitimate, or
2
Shanker,M.,&Astrachan,J.,MythsandRealities:FamilyBusinesses'ContributiontotheU.S.Economy.
FamilyBusinessReview,9(2),pp.107–119.
3
Dyer,W.G.,TheFamily:TheMissingVariableinOrganizationalResearch.EntrepreneurshipTheoryand
Practice,Summer2003,pp.401–416.
4
Porras,J.,&Collins,J.,BuilttoLast.NewYork:HarperCollins,1997.
5
Collins,J.,GoodtoGreat:WhySomeCompaniesMaketheLeap...andOthersDon't.NewYork:Harper
Business,2001.
6
Heck,R.,ACommentaryon“EntrepreneurshipinFamilyvs.Non-FamilyFirms:AResource-Based
AnalysisoftheEffectofOrganizationalCulture,”byShakerZahara,JamesC.Hayton,andCarloSalvato,
EntrepreneurshipTheoryandPractice,28(4).
28
FAMILY BUSINESS
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underweighted, they may y experience a a sense of inequity.
7
This sense e of f injustice,
whetherbyminorityshareholders,participatingmembers,oryoungermembersofthe
familyisoftenacauldronforeventualfamilyconflict.
Evenownersofsmallfamilybusinessesseemtoadoptthestereotypicalassumption
thatsignificantinvolvementoffamilymembersisasignofapoorlyrunbusiness.But
there is evidence fromthe 1997 National Family BusinessSurvey, alarge study of
smaller family firms (with mean gross business revenues s of f slightly more e than
$1million),thateachadditionalfamilymemberemployed(includingtemporaryand
part-time)inthebusinessisassociatedwithatleastasmall($2,000)increaseinannual
revenue.Revenuesalsoincreasedwhenfamilytensionwasreduced,whenthetwo-or
three-generation family lived together, and when family y membersreallocated d time
fromsleeptothebusinessandhiredtemporaryhelpduringbusytimes.
8
Thischapterwillfirstaddressfamilysystemstheory,genograms,andfamilyhistory
inanefforttopromoteagreaterunderstandingofaverycomplexsubject.Itwillthen
discusshowtomanagefamilyissuesinordertoinfluenceinapositivewaytheunique
interactionbetweenafamilyandabusinessthatliesatthecoreofeveryfamilyfirm.
THESTORIESOFTWOVERYDIFFERENT
FAMILYCULTURES
T
HE
B
INGHAMS AND D THE
L
OUISVILLE
C
OURIER
-J
OURNAL
C
OMPANIES
The following stories convey how w differently y secrecy,open communication, family
cultures,and policiesguiding the interaction between afamily and its s business can
influencethefateofacompany.
OnThursday,January9,1986,BarryBingham,Sr.,announcedthattheLouisville
Courier-Journalwouldbesold.TheBinghamshadremainedunabletocommunicate
andresolvethedifferencesbetweenmembersofthefamily.(Ifyouhavenotalready
done so, please read Case e 1: : The Binghams and The Louisville e Courier-Journal
Companiesfor additional l background information.) An agreementwasreached on
thatfatefuldaywiththeGannettCompany,andtheBinghamfamilymemberscashed
out.Allemergedcash-rich,butsomewhocaredaboutthelegacywereheartbroken.
MuchhadgonewrongintheBinghamfamily’sleadershipoftheLouisvilleCourier-
Journalanditsothermediaproperties.Absentwasavisiblecommitmenttocontinuity
onthepartofBarrySr.,thechairmanandCEO.Alsoabsentwasaboardwithinde-
pendentoutsiders.Lacking toowasspousal leadership by Mary Bingham asatrust
catalyst(afacilitatorandcommunicationscatalyst)
9
;shecouldhaveprovidedtheglue
thatwouldhavekepttheBinghamfamilyunitedandfocusedonawin–winenviron-
ment. Relationships s in n the Bingham family appeared to be characterized by an
emotionaldistance,whichcreatedanirreparablegulfbetweenadultsoftwogenerations.
Barry Sr.nevervested full authorityin BarryJr.,asevidenced by several instancesof
7
Stewart,A.,HelpOneAnother,UseOneAnother:TowardanAnthropologyofFamilyBusiness.Entre-
preneurshipTheoryandPractice,Summer2003,pp.383–396.
8
Olson,P.,etal.,TheImpactoftheFamilyandtheBusinessonFamilyBusinessSustainability.Journalof
BusinessVenturing,18,2003,pp.639–666.
9
LaChapelle,K.,&Barnes,L.,TheTrustCatalystinFamily-OwnedBusinesses,FamilyBusinessReview,11(1),
1998,pp.1–17.
CHAPTERGREATFAMILIES INBUSINESS
:
BUILDING TRUST T ANDCOMMITMENT
29
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second-guessinghisson,the president,and byhisretainingvoting control.By never
communicatinghiscommitmenttocontinuityorhisplanstotransfervotingcontrolto
hisson and d by y approving the sale of the company when aconsensus could notbe
reached,hefritteredawayhispowerasafather,aCEO,andmajorityownertopromote
continuityacrossgenerations.Continuity,atleastinretrospect,wouldhavebeenpref-
erabletotheobservedoutcomes—highcapitalgainsandestatetaxespaidbyBingham
familymembers,anextendedfamilythatremainedfracturedanddistantafterthesale,
andthelossofjobsandacommunity-responsivelocalnewspaper.
Thesaleofthecompanydidnot,afterall,bringthefamilytogetherasBarrySr.had
expected.Eachmemberofthethirdgenerationwentoffonherorhisown.Yearslater,
theirconflict would remain n unresolved.Several l fourth-generation members openly
regretted the decision n to sell l the e company and d the loss of identity, legacy, and
opportunitythatitrepresentedforthem.Afterall,thedreamthat“somedayallofthis
wouldbetheirs”hadfoundfertilegroundintheirmindsastheygrewup.Manyofthe
actions thatthe Binghams could d havetaken to reverse courseandpreventthedis-
advantagedsaleoftheirpropertieswouldhavebeenintheprovinceoffamilymeetings.
Butwithoutsuchagovernancebody,theconflictwastakentotheboardofdirectors,
composedprimarilyoffamilymembers,whichwasclearlyoverwhelmedbytheconflict
andparalyzedbyitsmembership.BoardmembersSallieandEleanorhadspentmostof
theirlivesawayfromLouisville,thefamily,andthefamilyenterprise.Theyhadpursued
careersthathardlypreparedthemforleadershipofanimportantmediacompany.
In the absence of family meetings, next-generation family members lacked the
education,information,give-and-takecommunication,andemotionalintelligencethat
would have promoted understanding g among the e individual heirs. . When Barry Sr.
named Sallie and Eleanor r to o the board, he gave e them m influence far r beyond d their
capacity to understand d and plan n for the e not-too-distantsuccession n and d transfer r of
power.Membershipinafamilycouncil(tobediscussedlaterinthischapterasawayof
managingandevenpreemptingsomesourcesoffamilyconflict)couldhavefostered
the understandingneeded forsuch planning,through yearsofworking togetherin
councilmeetings.
T
HE
B
LETHENS AND D THE
S
EATTLE
T
IMES
C
OMPANY
Inthesameindustry,adecadeorsolater,anevenoldermediainstitutionplannedfor
thecontinuityofthebusinessunderfamilycontrol,makingfamilymeetingsacentral
governance body. In a meeting g of f the fifth generation of f Blethens,chairman and
publisherFrankBlethenspokeofthecommitmentofeveryBlethengeneration,which
hadresultedin100yearsofcaringleadershipandstewardshipoftheSeattleTimesand
other newspapers in n the e corporate group. . He e emphasized the need to value the
extended family overtheindividualorfamilybranch,and hechallenged individuals
who participated in the family business to assume e stewardship p responsibilities. . He
assertedthat,inorderforthemtobesuccessfulasindividuals,itwasessentialthatthey
understandtheindividual’sresponsibilitytowardthegroup.
10
Morethanmoney,whatBlethenfamilymembersinheritthroughtheirownershipof
theSeattleTimesCompanyisaresponsibilitytoothersandtostewardship,sothatthe
enterprisetheyreceived from an earliergenerationmay besuccessfullypassedon to
10
Fancher,M.,ComingTogetherafterStriketoRebuildRelationships,Trust.TheSeattleTimes,January21,
2001.
30
FAMILY BUSINESS
the next. Documents s drafted in the e mid-1970s s by y third- - and d fourth-generation
members committed d the firm and the e family y to two basic c goals: : “To o perpetuate
Blethen family ownership and d to maintain the e dominance e of f The Seattle e Times
Newspaper.”ThesecommitmentsweretestedinApril2000,whenaprotractedstrike
createdsuchfinancialproblemsforthenewspaperthatitwasonthevergeofhavingto
shutdown.FrankBlethencallstheperiodafterthestrike“BacktotheFuture.”He
likens the situation at that time to o the early 1980s,when n his generation n offamily
ownersandseniormanagersstartedtakingoverthecompany.“Heconcedesthestrike
wasatremendousfinancialhittotheTimes,causinghimforthefirsttimeinhislifeto
consider the e possibility of f selling. . Fortunately those e darkest t moments s ultimately
strengthenedthefamily’sresolve.Thestewardshiptheyfeeltowardthenewspaperand
itsplaceinthiscommunityistooimportant.”
11
So,insteadofquittinginthefaceofseriousadversity,theextendedfamilyrecom-
mitteditselfto perpetuatingfamilyownershipandbuildingastrongerSeattleTimes,
fullyawareofthepersonalsacrificesthatthisdecisionwouldentail.
Membersofthefourthgenerationwereproudtoreportduringtheirfamilycouncil,
the “FifthEdition FamilyBusinessMeeting,”thatontheirwatchboththebusiness
andthefamilyhadbecomebetteroff.Inthe1990salone,thecompanygrewfromtwo
daily newspapers s to six daily y newspapers, , two weekly newspapers, , and d two o major
information websites;assetsgrew215 percent;and cash flowincreased33 percent.
DividendspaidoutbytheBlethenCorporationapproached$30million—asignificant
accomplishment,given thatonly20yearsearliernodividendswerebeingpaid.The
Blethenswere also proud to reportthattheSeattleTimeshadbeenafinalistforsix
Pulitzerprizesand had been named the14th bestnewspaperin the United States,
almostcertainlymakingitthebestregionalnewspaperinthecountry.Atthisfamily
meeting,therewasmuchinformationsharedandmuchtobeproudof.Itisprecisely
thiskindofeducationandinformation-sharingthatkeepspatientcapitalpatient.
Unlike the adultBingham m children, the next t generation of Blethens was being
preparedforstewardshipandfamilyunity.Thefifthgenerationwasbeingcoachedin
thevalueofsubsumingindividualagendasformaximumandimmediategaininorder
toachieveagreaterlong-termgainforall.
ZERO-SUMDYNAMICSAND
FAMILYCULTURE
Itiswithintherightsofownershiptofocusonindividualgainandtoretaintherightto
immediate liquidity. . However, multigenerational l family-controlled d businesses, even
thosewithsomeexposuretopublicmarkets,arelargelyilliquidenterprises.Thislackof
liquidityandneedforselflessinterestcanbeaburdenforfamilymembersoperatingin
asocietythattendstofocusontheshortterm,thelastquarter,thedaytrade.Theywill
bearthisresponsibility willingly only ifopportunities to acquireinformation, to be
educated,and to engage with important t family y valuesof stewardship are plentiful.
Inclusion,affection,andmutualinfluenceacrossgenerationsandbetweenactiveand
inactiveshareholdersareamust.Investingsweatequityindisseminatinginformation
to family members s and d encouraging multiple avenues s of participation n givesrise to
11
Ibid.
CHAPTERGREATFAMILIES INBUSINESS
:
BUILDING TRUST T ANDCOMMITMENT
31
trust,aspiritofservice,andasensethateveryoneisinthesameboatonthesamelong
journey.
Because of the myriad ways in which h us-and-them m behavior can manifest t itself,
multigenerational families are e fertile e ground for r zero-sum dynamics. . Zero-sum
dynamicsinrelationshipsarecharacterizedbyexchangesinwhichoneparty’sperceived
gainistheotherparty’sperceivedloss.Forexample,ifonebranchofthefamilyuses
educationalassistancefornext-generationmembers,anotherbranchassumesthatless
willbeavailableforitschildren.Or,iffamilymembersintopmanagementaretobe
compensatedatafairmarketrate,thosenotactiveinmanagementassumethatthey
will have e to settle e for lower dividends to o accommodate e those salaries. Even n more
critically, if those active in n top p management agree e on a a growth h strategy, family
membersemployedelsewherebelievethat,insettlingforgreaterreinvestmentinthe
business,theywillhavetoacceptreduceddistributionstoshareholders.Thisus-and-
them zero-sumdynamiccanbetriggeredby anyperceiveddifference:male–female,
active–inactive,richer–poorer, better educated–less educated, older–younger, blood
relative–in-law.Zero-sumdynamicsbecomerootedinrealitywhentheenterpriseor
familywealthstopsgrowingorisindecline—thatis,whenthepieisnotgettingany
larger. Membersof multigenerational familiesthatoperate on n the assumption that
anotherfamilymember’sgainistheirlossare fertilegroundforthedevelopmentof
familyconflict.
THEFAMILYSYSTEMSPERSPECTIVE
Familysystemstheoryisatheoryofhumanbehaviorthatconsidersthefamilytobethe
buildingblockofemotionallifeandusessystemsthinking
12
tounderstandthecomplex
interactionbetweenindividualmembersofthefamilyunit.Inthefamilysystemslit-
erature,thefamilyrepresentsagroup-level phenomenon—ahigher-orderlevelthan
that of the e individual. . A A higher-order r system, from m this s perspective, , offers the
opportunity to bringaboutchange at t thatsystem m level and to leveragechangesat
lower-level subsystems—that is, , change in n the family, , whether r brought t about t by
therapeuticinterventionorsomeothermeans,ismorelikelytobringaboutsustainable
change in the e individual l members s of f the e family. . Developments in family y systems
thinking by Drs. . Murray y Bowen, , Monica McGoldrick, Fredda a Herz Brown, and
others
13
helpintheanalysisoftheintricatedynamicsofinterdependentfamilylife.
Thefamilysystemsperspectivearguesthatthesameinterdependencethataccrues
benefits of f connectedness and the satisfaction of social, physical, intellectual, and
emotionalneedsgivesrisetounmetexpectationsandpersonaldistress.Theemotional
interdependenceoffamiliesmayverywellhaveevolvedtofulfillaprimarymissionof
familylife—unityinthefaceoftheneedtoprotect,feed,andnurturefamilymembers,
particularlythenextgeneration.
14
Butthatsameinterdependencegivesrisetomany
conflictingneeds,desires,andprioritiesasthefamilygrowsandages.
12
Emery,F.(ed.)SystemsThinking.Middlesex,England:PenguinBooks,1974.
13
SeeBowen,M.,FamilyTherapyinClinicalPractice.NewYork:J.Aronson,1978;HerzBrown,F.,
ReweavingtheFamilyTapestry.NewYork:W.W.Norton,1991;andMcGoldrick,M.,Genograms:Assess-
mentandIntervention,2nded.NewYork:W.W.Norton,1999.
14
Seehttp://www.thebowencenter.org.
32
FAMILY BUSINESS
Whilefamiliesoftenlooktoblameanindividualmemberwheneverthereistrouble
andtensionsmount,family systemstheoryarguesthatsharing responsibilityforthe
difficultyanditsremediationismoreeffectivethanpursuingindividualsolutions.
Thefamilysystemsperspectivealsoarguescompellinglyforthetremendousinflu-
enceofanindividual’sfamilyoforigin.Thepremiseisthatweallcarrymuchbaggage
fromourtwoorthreeprecedinggenerations,andthatpatternsand processessetin
motion during those generationsstillmatter.Therefore,the analysisofearlier r gen-
erationsisessential to understanding whatailsor r distressesafamilyinthe present.
Bowen’stheoryoffamilysystemsinsummarystatesthat:
1. Afamilyisasystem.
2. Family y systems transfer rules, , patterns, messages, or r expectations about t the
behaviorofitsmembers.
3. Individualsandfamiliescanstilllearnbehaviorsandestablishpatternsdifferent
fromthosetransferredbymessagesfromthefamilyoforigin.
4. Tensionanddistresstendtomakeindividualsgobacktopatternsandbehaviors
learnedfromtheirfamilyoforigin,unlessbypurposefulself-differentiationand
maturation,adifferentbehaviorislearnedandused.
15
Differentiationofselfisthereforeafoundationalprincipleoffamilysystemstheory.
Itsuggeststhatemotionsareveryoldandverypowerfulinthecontextofourfamily
historyandthatonly to the extentthatthey arecomplementedwiththought,even
under conditions of stress, can individuals rise from the historic patterns. Precisely
becauseof thedifficultyimplicitinself-differentiation,individualsoften behaveasif
theywerepouringtheiremotionalselvesontoothers,whichinfamilysystemstheory
givesrisetoBowen’sconceptoftriangulation.
Triangulationisthepredictable emotional pattern among threepeople,with the
third,theoutsider,being“triangled”asaresultoftheemotionaloutpouringinthe
relationshipbetweentheothertwofamilymembers.Forexample,ahusbandandwife,
inconflictovertheirrespectiveneedstocontrolorinfluencethemaritalrelationshipto
theirsatisfaction,maytriangleayoungsonordaughter.Thesonordaughter,feeling
thetension,actsoutinsomewayanddiffusesordistractsthecouplefromtheoriginal
conflictandcreatesanewfocusforfamilyattention.Thelesswelldifferentiatedthe
peopleinthetriangleare,themorelikelyitisthatemotionswillgettheupperhand
andimpairfamilymembers’abilitytothinkthemselvesoutofthesituationcreatively.
In large, extended families, scores of triangles exist, and according g to this s theory
whenever twopeople are in n conflict,a a triangled d person isnotfarawayfrom being
broughtintothediscussionforsupportorreassurance.Butultimatelyitisthetaskof
thetwoinconflicttoresolvethesituation,andnotthroughthetriangledthird,whois
mostatriskbygettinginthemiddle,unlesssheorheismasterfullyself-differentiated.
Bowen’stheoryoffamilysystemsalsodescribesthepotentialforcutoffsfromthe
family oforigin,meaningunresolved emotional attachmentstoparentsthatlead to
familymembersdistancingthemselvesfromtheirfamiliesoforigin,sometimesonlyto
“repeatthesinsoftheirpast”—forexample,bydistancingthemselvesfromaspouse.
Familysystemstheoryfundamentallyaimstoincreaseourunderstandingoffamily
patternsandbehaviorsandofhowthesemighthelporhinderrelationshipsbetween
15
Bork,D.,FamilyBusiness,RiskyBusiness.NewYork:AMACOM,1986.
CHAPTERGREATFAMILIES INBUSINESS
:
BUILDING TRUST T ANDCOMMITMENT
33
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