When the patriarch just can’t leave….. – RAJIV AGARWAL

When the patriarch just can’t leave…..

I read an article of the Emperor of Japan,  Emperor Akhihito planning to address the nation today. The article states that he may indicate , ” that it’s time for him to step down from the world’s longest-running hereditary monarchy. Taking that step may not be easy, however. No Japanese monarch has abdicated in nearly 200 years, no law governs such cases, and the popular 82-year-old monarch’s retirement could raise delicate questions about a ban on female succession and the imperial family’s place in society.” 

(EDIT: FT reported that he had mentioned that the Emperor did indicate a desire to abdicate, the first Japanese emperor to stand down since 1817)

I am in no position to and hence will not comment on the above article in any manner at all.

But this article triggered some thoughts  on a different context. i was thinking of cases in family businesses, where during my discussions with the patriarch or the operating head of the family business, have admitted in a moment of candour, that they feel helpless, and stuck in the family business and cannot leave. This causes them to remain even though they would leave, given a choice.

I think that this is a phenomena that I have heard from one of the successors, in a top 10 Indian Industrial house make!

This brings us to consider a point, what if the head of the family business wants to exit? do we have rules which allow him to do so, or is the rules in the society, family or business, prevent him from doing so?

Usually, patriarchs design the processes and systems which revolve around them, so as to consolidate their position, and to maintain a control over the different aspects of the business, but this also results that the business cannot run without them! This may be great for the patriarch’s self esteem, but could be disastrous for all the stakeholders, if the patriarch was not able to operate for some reason. In fact, I have met many small scale entrepreneurs who claim that they are so busy that they did not have time for a holiday, or even if they did take one, they were too busy on the phone all the time! and then they want me to advise them on why they are not growing!

While there are usually emotional and personal individual reasons for most patriarchs not retiring, which have been exhaustively covered, it is interesting to note that there are other reasons, which compel a member to remain at the helm. Family traditions of primogeniture, have been the norm in societies, royalty or in family firms.

Which brings me to the fact that every family member needs to examine the social, family and business reasons surrounding the family firm, to be aware of such circumstances.

While a work life balance is definitely suggested for every individual (What’s the use of all the money, if you are not able to enjoy it? How much is enough? What are your goals and what are you exactly hoping to achieve? Is there a finish line or does the bar just keep on getting higher and higher? are questions that may help to determine the answers..)

Given the fact that the youth today are becoming more assertive and independent, seeking opportunities outside that of the family business, it becomes imperative that the the patriarch seek options to professionalise or sell the business. Furthermore, the rules binding him in the family business can be re-examined with all the stakeholders to update these with the current environmental realities. There is no reason, that while we talk about stepping into the next century, we, our families and family businesses  still continue to adhere to norms which may be hindering family relationships and family well-being. It may be a time to do a re-think.

The question is, are we ready to take the first step?





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