Simmering family matters cannot defer to business priorities indefinitely.
By Sach Chandaria
How many times have you faced a situation where, on one hand, you must attend to a pressing business problem while on the other hand, deal with an important family matter? Nine out of ten times, I would guess, it is the business issue that gets the attention because family problems can always wait just a little longer.
One can’t blame the decision-maker for choosing the business issue when faced with this dilemma as the reality is that the family issue can probably wait. The real problem arises when family issues are constantly made to wait. Sadly, this is often the case. But make no mistake, deferring family matters, which are often difficult to deal with because they involve deep relationships, emotions and perceptions, comes at a dear price: you will slowly be sowing the seeds of growing fractures.
Just like a business, a family too must be managed. The difference is that managing a family is more time-intensive and difficult than managing a business because the variables are far more emotional and need delicate handling.
I represent the fifth generation of an extended family scattered in clusters in five locations around the globe: Toronto, London, Geneva, Nairobi and Singapore. From experience, and with the greatest humility, I can unequivocally state that one of the key reasons we have come this far is that we have been endowed with gifted family leaders who have consciously devoted all of their time to managing our family.
They spent an extraordinary amount of time understanding what an individual’s needs are and how they evolve. They visited other multi-generational families around the world to learn best practices. When there was no single solution that fit all families, they laid the core foundations of a philosophy, institutions, structures, practices, core values and decision-making patterns that allowed us to continue to remain together as a family.
They spent time with new spouses and partners to explain why our family chose to live the way we did. They spent time with our children to ensure their sense of belonging went beyond their immediate family. They encouraged family members of similar ages to vacation together so their children could build family bonds – and create the feeling that they were not just children of their parents but of an extended family.
Spending time and effort on family means all of this and more. It means dedicating family members to focus exclusively on managing the family and not having to straddle the impossible task of balancing business and family.
What has made the efforts of our family leaders all the more impressive was that they were the smartest and most capable family members who made conscious decisions to spend time on the family instead of the business, which was left to others.
This choice becomes easy to understand when one realizes that their main objective was building a sustainable multi-generational family, and not wealth. Business, and the wealth it brings, was only seen as a means to an ultimate end: a resilient family.
Let me not leave you with the illusion that we have figured it all out. We have not. I feel that we as a family, today, are ignoring ourselves. We have become too focused on building family wealth and are not investing enough in the family itself.
Our past generations were from an age where making personal sacrifices for the collective was second nature and reflected the society in which they lived. We now live in a world where we are geographically dispersed and interact with each other in different ways. Today, our children are educated in the West and are undoubtedly influenced by individualistic thinking that dominates these regions. They enjoy the luxury of choice of life paths that were once unthinkable.
Are the institutions and foundations we have built strong enough to withstand this new reality? To an extent, yet they desperately need to be modernized to remain relevant in our current context. We are not investing enough time to this area. Are we investing time in the family? Yes, but it’s woefully inadequate. Today, one’s credibility in the family is built on one’s accomplishments in the business, not in the family, and this is a fundamental problem.
But given enough time, patience and effort, family problems can be resolved. I’m reminded of an old English maxim which states: “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.” I would venture to say that if you take care of your family, the business will take care of itself.
What is the key to keeping an entrepreneurial multi-generational family together? Dedicating time and resources to taking care of family and resolving to see it though – generation by generation.
About Family Enterprise Foundation
We are associated with Family Enterprise Canada, the national community for family business in Canada. Our goal is to ensure the long-term success and continuity of enterprising families and their family enterprises, across generations! Family Enterprise Canada empowers business families and Family Enterprise Advisors to thrive by providing a dynamic peer community, family-focused learning, relevant insights, a family enterprise specific designation and - together with our Foundation - a voice for all. Learn more at familyenterprise.ca