|http://www.sina.com.cn 2005/03/11 18:30 《Speak 2 Me》|
What do you do when a family business’ biggest problem is the family?
Families fight all the time, but normally these quarrels only result in some broken dishes and sleepless neighbors. But fights within family-owned businesses can result in sleepless nights for thousands of employees and investors.
Reliance Industries, founded by a former gas station attendant, is India’s largest private company. The founder planned to leave the company to his two sons, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, but the old man died in 2002 without leaving a will, and the two brothers have been at each other’s throats ever since. Since the brothers collectively control the company, but can’t agree on how to manage it, thousands of Reliance employees and investors have been holding their breath to see how the story plays out.
As long as there are family businesses, there will be family business feuds. In 1995, Maurizio Gucci, heir to the Gucci fortune and grandson of the company’s founder, was murdered outside his Milan office. It turns out the gunmen were hired by Gucci’s wife, furious that her husband was planning to leave her for another woman. With Maurizio out of the way, she figured there was nothing to stop her from taking over the company herself.
While few family business arguments end in murder, many do end the firm. Fewer than 30% of family businesses survive the death of the founder: incompetence, apathy and mistrust among siblings and their spouses usually combine to kill off the parent’s life’s work.
Some companies try to avoid this fate by handing over day-to-day operations to professional managers. Business schools have also begun offering special programs to train the second and third generation owners in the difficulties of managing a family firm.
An old proverb says, “From rags to riches and back again in three generations.” Given the way the Ambani brothers are acting, their grandchildren might end up working as gas station attendants, just like their great-grandfather.