Family Business Wiki's Town Square

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It's (too) easy to focus on dysfunctional family businesses

MSN Money recently ran a high-profile article (with photos, of couse) entitled 10 Dysfunctional Family Businesses (or "Dynasties of Dysfunction"). The "usual suspects" were noted: Hilton, Murdoch, Redstone, Prtizker, Bronfman -- along with some new additions, e.g., the Hulk Hogan family.

Boy, is this an easy target for journalists. Just like the local TV news which loves to run stories about house fires (requires very little actual reporting -- and has great visuals), the National Enquirer approach of reveling in the misfortunes of the rich and famous is always a great crowd pleaser.

Those of us who advise family businesses, or who own family businesses, can simply shake our heads ruefully at these stories and dismiss them -- but I would suggest that they are more corrosive than we would like to assume. By reinforcing this stereotype of "dynasties of dysfunction", these articles lead family business people to be embarassed about, rather than celebrating, their family busines status. (On a recent Family Business Wiki teleconference from Hong Kong, Kevin Au noted that family businesses in Hong Kong are reluctant to identify themselves as family businesses because family businesses are not held in high esteeem in Hong Kong). How does this affect the grooming of the next generation of leadership for the family business? How does this affect the ability to market one's business as a family business? How might it affect a bank's willingness to extend credit to a family business?

Is anything to be done about this? Probably not about journalists writing the easy story on family business dysfunction -- but we could devote more energy to creating a more positive image of family business in the larger community. Lots of positive stories about family businesses are written -- but these stories appear in family business magazines which go only to family businesses but not to the larger public. I would like to propose that people write positive stories about their family businesses -- write them on Family Business Wiki -- and then we can systematically expose these stories to the press. What do you think?

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