It truly is a privilege to work alongside business owning families. The work is meaningful in a way that is difficult to put into words. Every so often, someone shares a thought or feeling that stays with you and that is what happened to me a few weeks ago.
The family business owner in question said that he felt very sad that he would never get to see where his remoter descendants take the business. He was commenting that he won’t be around to witness the successes (and trials) of the future generations and that that left him with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. This really touched me and has stayed with me and played on my mind over the past few weeks.
There are strong themes that run through the thoughts and feelings that family business owners experience (this is why it can be so valuable for families in business to share experiences with one another) but no one had ever shared a thought quite like that with me before.
It made me wonder whether other family business owners felt this way? Perhaps they do but no one had been able to express it that way to me before.
We all know that the nature of family business work brings us face to face with death and mortality all the time. Often the challenge is in finding a safe way for those in the current / exiting generation to face up to their own mortality. Here you have a relatively young man who is not only facing up to his own mortality and what that means for him but expressing his thoughts and feelings in a very open and honest way. He was also demonstrating an understanding at a deep level about what it means for a business to endure in a family for generations.
This may sound very morbid but my own strongly held view is that we need to make conversations about death a part of normal life. It is only through open discussion about death and mortality that we can truly understand what it means to be on this world and part of a family business for such a short time. Surely this has to bring a greater sense of purpose and meaning to the everyday?
Is this an exception to the rule or a sign of things to come for those straddling the generation X/Y divide and beyond? Let’s hope it’s the latter.