Meu pai, meu patrão

My Father, My Boss
How family conflict can bring down the family business. The primary reason they go belly-up has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with family relations.

Psychology Today
May 01, 1994

You think dealing with your family once a year at the holiday dinner table is difficult? Try working with them.

Family businesses are an important part of the U.S. economy, but the primary reason they go belly-up has nothing to do with economics. It has everything to do with family relations, according to the Family Business Advisor.

As the family grows in size through generations, interests and values may begin to differ and the binds that tie begin to fray. "The business may also begin to attract members who just can't find any other work. The family business then develops the connotation that it's not an attractive place for the most able and business-oriented," says John L. Ward, a professor of private enterprise at Loyola University Chicago.

Or, as family members grow wealthier, their minds may wander and they may take their financial spoils elsewhere.

If interests don't diverge, they may lose it all through weak family skills. Often a parent with a strong personality runs the family business. He inevitably presided over differences at home with an authoritarian, "Because I said so," keeping siblings from learning how to deal with conflict. Either warring siblings bring down the business or parent-child conflicts may.

Parent and child flareups typically come to a head when the younger generation enters its thirties. "That's a time in psychological development when people are very interested in expressing their opinions and proving their sense of self-worth," explains Ward.

In parent-child conflicts, the real problem is the clash between the goals and values of different life stages. "The business becomes the battlefield on which they are played out," says Ward.

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