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Harvard Business Review

How to structure a family business that can last generations

Harvard Business Review
16 minute Read

The paradox

Family businesses are famous for power plays, backstabbing, and dramatic implosions. Yet some are among the most enduring companies in existence.

Why it matters

Family-controlled firms represent some 85% of the world’s businesses.

The keys to longevity

The owners of a family business have the right to: decide on an ownership type, structure governance, define success, determine what to communicate, and plan the transfer of power to the next generation. Misunderstanding or misapplying these rights can destroy the work of generations—and exercising them wisely can lead to long-term success.

Given their portrayals in the media, it might be easy to dismiss family businesses as hotbeds of power playing, favor currying, and back-stabbing—preoccupations that can hurt the company, the family, or both. Think of the Murdochs and NewsCorp, or the Redstones and National Amusements, to name just two. But despite the headline-grabbing tales, many family businesses have enjoyed success for decades, even centuries. For instance, the Italian winemaker Marchesi Antinori, established in 1385, has thrived as a family business for more than 600 years. Similar examples can be found across the globe just within the alcohol business; they include Gekkeikan in Japan (founded in 1637), Berry Bros & Rudd in the United Kingdom (1698), and Jose Cuervo in Mexico (1795).

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