Family Business

These 4 books hold timeless truths for family businesses, life

September 29, 2012 

So you are the next generation. You are working hard, keeping your nose clean and trying to learn everything you can about the family business. The road to succession is long and fraught with obstacles. To help clear the path, I’d like to provide a next-generation “crash course” by highlighting four books that, taken as a group, will help prepare you to be successful not only in the family business, but also in life.

Let’s begin with fundamental skills and Steven Covey’s highly acclaimed “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” The overall concept is to structure your behavior such that you will be successful.

Habit 1 – Be proactive – is the most impactful to me. Most of us in the workplace are passive, waiting to react when the problem or opportunity arises. Sherre DeMao recently presented at an Institute of Management Consultants meeting, where she made the point that “you can’t focus on the TLC if you are always worried about the CYA.” If you have decided a course of action, ask yourself, “Why can’t I implement this decision right now?” Many times you will find that you can. It may not be perfect, but speed trumps perfection. And don’t confuse being busy with being proactive. It’s not.

Habit 5: First understand, and then try to be understood. Convince the speaker you understood, and then you can have the microphone. Family businesses are breeding grounds for conflict. Manage it with effective communication.

Habit 7 is particularly relevant here: Sharpen the saw – never stop learning, growing and accepting change.

Next, learn to deal with people by understanding emotional intelligence. This concept was first coined by Daniel Goleman in his seminal book “Emotional Intelligence.” He has since gone on to be declared a top 10 influential business thinker by the Wall Street Journal. In his book he describes how those who are most successful in business and life have a high degree of self-awareness, emotional control, empathy and ability to influence others. This seems a little counterintuitive as we have all been told that we must make good grades to be successful. IQ is important, but also insufficient.

Making good choices

Here is one that is a little sideways: “Kids, Wealth and Consequences.” (Disclosure: I am quoted in the book.) Family businesses are businesses where your family owns the business. Your family is in control and has the power to hire and fire people and affect their livelihoods. Also as an owner, you reap the benefits of the profits. This environment can psychologically affect the next generation such that they can come to believe that they are actually superior to others merely because they are related to those who created the business or are wealthy. This book guides the next generation through the financial, intellectual and spiritual/emotional choices they face and how to deal with them so that they can develop into well-balanced adults.

Learning from Jobs

The culminating book I will ask you to read is the biography “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. This book is a massive case study of the earlier three books, but far beyond them. But let me be clear here: It is not a book on how it is done; it shows the bad and the ugly along with the good. The author states that Steve Jobs told him to write whatever he wanted and put no constraints on it. We can immediately see that this must be true as the author paints Mr. Jobs’ behavior through much of his life as abhorrent.

Regardless, it is a tour de force on leadership style, interaction and effectiveness. It is unparalleled on motivation, innovation and creativity. It covers multiple aspects of “Emotional Intelligence” and “The 7 Habits.” I would contend that the biography of Steve Jobs will soon become required reading at some of the top business schools around the world as a “how to” and “how to not” book.

Clearly these are not all hard-core family business books. That is because the major elements of success for the next generation family business leader are actually more fundamental: Have feelings, be structured, earn your way, and have passion, even if you have to break the rules sometimes.

Henry Hutcheson is a nationally recognized family business speaker, author and consultant in Raleigh. He can be reached at

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