Publication Details

This article was originally published as Barrett, M & Mores, K, Corporate governance and the family business: managing the paradoxes, Keeping Good Companies, December 2003, 689-690.


When we did the primary research for our book Learning Family Business: Paradoxes and Pathways*, we talked to many owners of family businesses at different stages of the business life cycle. In the course of talking to them, we noticed that family business owners would say that their business was "just like any other business". But then they would always follow this with the word "except…" and then go on to describe something which suggests that family businesses are very unlike other businesses. This is not altogether surprising. After all, a family and a business are both systems that do not necessarily occur together, so running the two of them together is likely to create situations that make family businesses different from others. Moreover, the high level of interdependency between ownership and management in a family business creates forces which make executive and strategic decisions more complex and more subjective. When a family runs a business, major decisions in the family firm will affect both the family and the business systems, creating paradoxes about running family businesses that do not occur in non-family businesses. We saw this at all the successive stages of learning the family business that we described in our book: learning business, learning our business, to learning to lead our business and, finally, learning to let go our business.