Family Business 101 – Nobody wins when the family feuds except….

Family Business 101 – Nobody wins when the family feuds except….

posted on March 10, 2018

It hangs above the door-way, where many casual eyes must have missed it. Yet for some reason, I noticed it, and was immediately struck by the beautifully curved frame, with hand-written letters in black fading ink, and yellowing paper. Though very old, it certainly wasn’t original. I later learnt, that the original had been written by Abraham Lincoln ~ 142 plus years ago ~ for a law lecture, which he may or may not have delivered, before he became American President. Yet the message on the quote was still as true today. It took me a moment to internalize the quote which read; Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough. Abraham Lincoln

As I strolled out of the hotel, without giving it another thought, little did I know, I’d be discussing the quote, again later that day. I joined the rest, who were by now boarding the Uber dudu, and though we managed to board, it was a tight fit. The dudu, was Briggs humorous reference to the beetle shape [and size] of the suzuki Uber taxis, which had recently infested the Nairobi traffic. Our inaugural ride went pretty well, that is, until the skies opened to a storm in which curtains of rain and hail stones came down wave-after-wave. In the dudu, it was quite an experience. It however didn’t stifle the conversation [on how to acquire the gift of wisdom in dealing with family issues], which continued in the trip home. Actually, it even became more passionate, and we were pleasantly surprised, when the Uber driver asked, actually more of reminded us. “Is it here?” as he turned into the gate home.

The conversation had been triggered earlier that evening, by a media report on a ugly family feud. The report was later followed by a string of interviews, in which family members gave a flow of information to anyone who cared to listen. The scene was depressing and the old – and true – adage about a house divided immediately came to mind. The event seemed to distress our only surviving Aunty, [whom we fondly called Aunty baby] who immediately questioned the wisdom of family members opting for litigation to settle family differences.

Before discussing my thoughts on this situation, however, I must disclose that I only know what the media has reported about this case. I know it’s a mistake to take things out of context. Because things are not always as they appear, especially if important facts are missing from the news reports. That said, Aunty babys’ passion while discussing the matter was surprising.

She pointed a finger at the presenter and asked “Does anyone of you know of a situation in which opposing parties in a lawsuit got along better once the action has ended, than they did before it began? It’s not possible! Litigation between family members has an detrimental effect and hurts relationships – often irreparably,” she said. Shaking her head, from side-to-side, gesturing disagreement. “It’s challenging” she continued, “I don’t understand why so many families end up in court with these disputes? And yet, the facts are well known” as she stretched out one finger after another counting, “the cost, the delay and the increase in conflict that always accompanies litigation is disheartening” she seemed to conclude.

And as suddenly as she had begun, in true Aunty Baby style, she went silent, for a while, before she spoke as if answering a question in her head “If you say wisdom requires education, this is yet another instance that questions whether education makes people necessarily wise.” She said quietly as if weighing thoughts in her mind.

Then turning to me, “Now, my brothers’ son, If only you could teach families wisdom!” she said, concern written all over her face! “You’d avert all these emotional, vengeful battles!” Her tone, sounding more of a challenge, than a statement, while her gaze remained fixed on me with pouted lips.

What does it mean to be wise?

“Great, …. that’s a great suggestion, Aunty,” I said trying to match her enthusiasm. “However wisdom, I believe, implies more than being able to process information. The knowledge people acquire only becomes wisdom, when they develop the ability to assimilate and apply the knowledge to make right decisions. And so, if I were to teach wisdom, as you suggest, perhaps, we should start with the end in mind. What would you wish to see?” I asked turning to her. But she was silent, yet again, and appeared to be lost in her own thoughts.

All this time Briggs, our adopted son, a student in St. Lawrence University on the Kenya Semester Program, who had been following the conversation silently, suddenly exclaimed – a little loudly – and with an American drawl. 

“Ahaa…. Ain’t that simple folks, because wise people are blessed with good judgment! Aren’t they? Teach good judgment! Simple!” he chipped in with youthful enthusiasm as the entire group turned towards him. I almost leapt with joy at the revealing simplicity. This boy is smart! I thought so.

“Yes, Yes, young man” said Aunty suddenly coming alive. “I too agree, families should be taught good judgment asserted Aunty Babie, sternly looking at me.

Age doesn’t make us wiser!

“And how do you expect that to happen Aunty?” I said looking at her seeking an answer “Because, and as you know Aunty, becoming wise is a very personal quest, and doesn’t come with age. The mere act of listening to carefully thought out statements, and sound advice doesn’t necessarily ensure the transfer of wisdom.” I said.

“Besides, earlier this evening, I came across a quote, in which among other things it said: …..Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker …… a superior opportunity of being a good man.” As they all listened attentively. “So Aunty solutions already exist. And that through a number of specific steps, we proactively support families wisely navigate and manage the complex dynamics of family relationships and wealth. We support the entrepreneurial multi-generational families prepare [and implement] family enterprise and legacy management plans through a propriety process. This ensures, a multi-generational family enterprise transitions successfully [and harmoniously] for generation.” What I didn’t tell Aunty Baby, is that I felt her passion, and that’s what we feel and bring along as we support entrepreneurial families to preserve their legacies, family and business ………over to you………

Article by: Peter Ouma Muga, Family Business Advisor & Coach at Institute For Family Business (IFFB) Contacts: