The family business

I love the first two movies in” The Godfather” trilogy. My favorite is “The Godfather.” I was intrigued by the character of Michael Corleone, and that whole reluctant Don thing.

He didn’t really want to be a part of the family business. He came home from the war with his non Italian girlfriend looking to make a break. Michael wanted a straight job and a straight life.

It didn’t work out that way. Events drag Michael into the family business and into the role of Don – a role that suits him perfectly.

This also plays out in the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey won’t even pretend to be reluctant about succeeding his father as he head of the Bailey Savings and Loan. George wants to travel the world and seek his fortune.

However, each time George prepares to leave, something happens that keeps him rooted in Bedford Falls. George could  have said the line uttered by Michael Corleone  in the forgettable “Godfather III” – “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Yet, George remains in Bedford Falls and becomes a good executive.

That’s Hollywood. Real life is  more complex. It seems that successor commitment is a good way to tell if junior (or sister) can do as good a job of running the family business as dad (or mom).

Katiuska Cabrera-Suarez studied family companies located in the Canary Islands that replaced their CEO’s with member(s) of the succeeding generation. Suarez defined commitment as the “successor’s willingness to take over the business.”

Not surprisingly, she learned that “effective successors have a more positive attitude about the business than non-effective ones.” Can a reluctant successor be transformed into a committed leader? There are likely too many qualifiers for you to bet the farm. Factors include the circumstances under which the successor assumed the leadership role, whether or not their elevation was voluntary and how much autonomy they have in making changes.

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1 comment
  1. DebbS said:

    I think with both movies, one of the qualifiers was the reluctant successors feeling of responsibility to others who depended on the family business – both had moral reasons for assuming leadership.

    It’s been my own experience with family business that often the successor doesn’t have the same strengths or management style as the previous leader, but the everybody around them, especially the next layer of management thinks they should be the same. They judge the new leader as lacking – the offspring as less than the parent. At the same time, they are resistant to kinds of changes that would allow the new leader to use his/her own talents and management style to make the business successful. Being able to make changes – changes that often include replacing the resistant managers – is important to success. But, that’s difficult because even if the new leader has the autonomy to do so it may be contradictory to his moral sentiments toward the employees whom he leads. A moral sentiment probably handed down to him from the previous generation.

    In addition, if there are a team of successors – brothers and sisters – they bring the whole family dynamic into the business and manage from that dynamic. Family succession is crazy-difficult!

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