In a typical family, love is always equated with fairness. For many founders placing more weight on being parents rather than business owners, fairness should naturally mean equal pay and equal shares regardless if one offspring is not working, lazy, entitled, and a good-for-nothing adult child. Unfamiliar to a parent/owner, his or her act of recklessly and prematurely transferring ownership to an unqualified offspring is probably one of the biggest reasons why petty sibling conflicts can swiftly morph into entropy immediately after the founder’s death.
I have intervened in many senseless and hostile conflicts (pervasive in Asia) erupting out of nowhere because of the deplorable behavior of these callous founders and key business leaders. Indeed, their actions imperil not just the business side but ultimately scar family relationships forever.
To quote 4th generation leader Sammy Lee of the US$20 billion global leader, Lee Kum Kee Group, "If the family council was in place, this would not have happened.” He stated this as he referred to the past feuds where he fought with his father over the latter’s decision to sell a money-losing unit. "My relationship with my father was bad! I proposed selling the shares in the sauces business that I would be entitled to in exchange for keeping the health-products unit, which would also mean I would get out of the family business. Which also meant my father would never speak to me.” Lee added, "The ownership was divided equally, but the family members did not trust each other. They did not have common goals. Many families have broken up because they could not find a consensus. We had two buyouts in the past. If we didn't do anything, history would repeat. It's a lesson that I haven't seen many families learn.”
The unending drama among active operators vying for attention and recognition when the patriarch was still alive suddenly makes a dramatic change when the parent founder dies. In an instant, everyone is caught in the maelstrom of emotions coming from all sides of the family, business, and ownership ecosystem. With the anchor and quarterback barely settling in his grave, the family business starts losing its hold on disgruntled family members. Akin to an aircraft without a captain and an able co-pilot, there is a risk of everyone pulling in different directions and conflict within the family or even between the family and the business. Adding fuel to the fire is the constant assault from extended family members (in-laws, half-siblings, uncles, aunts) and the stinging accusations from passive family members longing for attention.
As the simmering conflict heads to a boil, these unhealthy, deep-seated, emotional rivalries (some dating back during childhood) suddenly worsens into a ball of disagreements, and the end game will be fireworks that will light the sky for generations. In this stage of entropy, the battle lines are drawn, and family and business become blurred. Without outside intervention, this hostility will likely develop into the most dangerous type of conflict: the countdown to self-destruction! This is the end stage where any relational connection will collapse from within due to money, power, and factionalism (the next battlefront), effectively undermining everything related to the family and the business.
When you put all these issues together, there is really one culprit that creates most of the problems afflicting family owning businesses today, and without a doubt, that is you, the legendary founder and great visionary. You are lamentably caught in a confused state, not knowing where to draw the line as a parent and a business owner. In the immortal words of "Pogo" from an old comic strip, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
No matter how well-intentioned you are as a business owner, you are your own worst enemy in an absolute sense. Being aware of this harmful tendency is a good place to start.