"Dad shows no sign of relinquishing control. Any decisions I try to make are consistently overturned by him. The situation is further complicated by his frequent changes of mind. I often find myself feeling embarrassed, whether it's in front of our executives or his friends. I'm left wondering why he's treating me this way, and honestly, I'm at a loss for what to do next." Is this a common frustration? Unfortunately, it is accurate and it is, in fact, a widespread scenario. In my role assisting families across Asia, I have found that this concern is voiced by 7 out of every 10 next-generation leaders.

In the world of business, few partnerships are as complex and emotionally charged as that of a father and son in a family-run enterprise. At its best, such a partnership can be a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, a bridge between generations. However, at its worst, it can turn into a crucible of conflict, tearing both the family and the business apart.

In this article, we delve into the intriguing dynamics of father-son conflicts within family businesses, exploring their causes, consequences, and, most importantly, strategies for resolution. 

Power and Control Battles. The heart of many conflicts in family businesses is the issue of succession and control. Fathers often find it challenging to let go of the reins they have held for years, while sons are eager to prove their worth and make their mark. This struggle for power can manifest in clashing management styles and decision-making approaches. To mitigate this, clear succession plans and open discussions are essential.

Generational Dynamics. The generation gap between fathers and sons can be a breeding ground for conflict. Fathers, having built the business, may be deeply attached to their tried-and-true approaches, while sons, eager to make their mark, seek to introduce new strategies and technologies.

These differences in perspective can lead to tensions and disagreements that could leave successors to navigate this delicate terrain independently. And so, as Alliance Global Group CEO Kevin Tan aptly put it during our Q&A session at W+B Advisory Group's 'Family Business Continuity' event in partnership with Icon Executive Asia, the young generation must learn to fend for themselves because, as Kevin emphasized in the interview, "Adversary #1 would be your own flesh and blood." 

To address this intricate challenge of generational dynamics, family businesses must recognize the value of both experience and innovation. Embracing a balanced approach that acknowledges the wisdom and expertise of the older generation while also appreciating the fresh perspectives and innovative ideas brought by the younger generation is crucial for fostering harmony.

Communication Breakdown. Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship, and it is no different in a family business. When there is a lack of clear communication, the family business may fail to define and convey the roles, expectations, and responsibilities of family members involved in the business. In such circumstances, the erosion of trust and cohesion among family members is almost inevitable, intensifying the strain on familial bonds and interpersonal relationships. Regular, open dialogue is key to preventing such breakdowns, a practice expertly navigated by the father-and-son duo ruling the Alliance Global Group – Andrew L. Tan and his eldest son, Kevin. 

Kevin, who is now overseeing his father's empire, recounted how his relationship with his boss and father evolved over time, a transformation worth working on, “Our relationship (today) has become all about trust; we trust each other now. But it wasn't like that in the beginning. We would always fight before, we would have conflicts, and as a son, I'm always the one taking a step back."

In this, we witness effective communication and the vital element of respect. Andrew L. Tan and Kevin's successful relationship within their family business didn't solely stem from open dialogue; it was also grounded in their respect for each other, which Kevin earned through his merit. This facilitated active listening, constructive dialogue, and a transformative perspective on disagreements as opportunities for growth — a perspective especially significant for Kevin, as he regarded their conflicts as valuable learning experiences.

Unequal Treatment and Favoritism. Perceived unequal treatment among family members involved in the business can breed resentment. Sons may feel slighted if they believe their father favors other siblings or relatives. Differences in rewards, responsibilities, or recognition can fuel this perception. Fairness and transparency in family business dealings are essential for maintaining family cohesion. However, it is essential to understand that fairness does not necessarily mean everything has to be equal.

Personal and Professional Boundaries. Striking the right balance between personal and professional life can be challenging in a family business. Personal conflicts, unresolved family issues, or emotional baggage from the past can spill over into the business realm, causing tension. Establishing clear boundaries and addressing personal issues separately can help maintain professionalism.

Financial Disagreements. Money matters are another flashpoint for family business disputes. Disagreements over financial decisions, such as investments, profit distribution, or salary disparities, can strain relationships. Differing financial goals and risk tolerances can also lead to conflicts over the direction and growth strategies of the business.

Lack of Defined Roles and Succession Plans. Ambiguity surrounding roles and succession planning can lead to confusion and conflicts. Both fathers and sons may have differing expectations about their positions within the business. To mitigate this, families should establish clear roles, responsibilities, and succession plans well in advance.

To be continued...