The news broke at the end of October. John Marriott III – son of Bill Marriott, co-chair of the Marriott Family Trust (originally set up by the founding family members of the Marriott empire – was suing his father (and uncle) for forcing him out of the family business and attempting to ruin him financially by keeping him from the inheritance that he had been expecting for so long.
I don’t need to go into any more details on the lawsuit itself. The Washingtonian did a great job at providing that detail in their story of October 30. The story caught my attention for this site due to that struggle that many family businesses have to balance the Job vs. the Family. If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning, you may remember that this is one of the key family business topics that I identified in my review of The Crown.
No one but the Marriott family members involved will know all of the details. We can only make assumptions from the reports we’re seeing, but there are some interesting aspects to consider in this case:
Many thanks to a tweet from @DALFamBus a few weeks ago about a book written by @FrancesStroh – family member of the famous Stroh Brewery company (here’s the NY Times story)! I immediately knew it was a book I wanted to read. Living through a very public family-business downfall and writing about it was surely going to be an interesting read!
And Frances didn’t let me down! “Brave” is probably the best way to explain how I feel about her after reading the book. She gets very honest and personal about something as intimate as life in a family business – especially with a family name that is pretty much a household name. While I imagined I’d read more about the business side of her story, I found myself glad that the focus of this book was truly a personal memoir that was focused on the family side.
The honest and open account is one that can most easily be shared after the fact – more of a recollection and a way to cope with the effects on one personally. Frances freely expresses that this book is her own view of the story, and it served as a way to help her work through the emotions of such a change in family wealth and privilege. I’ve found that – in a family business – one quickly learns to “hide” the troubles of business as a matter of family pride. Having been through my own family business changes (though much more recently and not to the same extent as her family’s business), I could relate to many of the feelings and experiences she had.
Frances shares many things that most family business members wouldn’t dare share:
- Her own admission and recounting of her free-wheeling drug and alcohol lifestyle as a teenager.
- The loss of a brother due to drugs.
- The alcohol and spending problems of her father – which led to his ostracization from much of the family business.
- Her father marrying a former classmate of hers.
- Business decisions being made for “family” reasons rather than “business” ones.
- Sexism in family leadership roles – even when nepotism was present
All of this (and much more) is packed into a quick read that is a must for any family business member – especially for any who think they have a dysfunctional family with whom they work.
QUESTION: What other family business books have you found to be “brave” that others should read?
Family businesses everywhere have touted that they were “family owned and operated” since the dawn of advertising. And they’re still doing this today. Our home building company was no exception. There’s just something about that family pride that those involved with the business understand. They’ve worked hard to build that business reputation (many of which have the family name tied to it), so those family business members automatically figure that their customers logically value that hard work. But do they……really?!?
Over the years, I had attended lectures and read books on marketing best practices. Although I can’t remember which lecture it was, I distinctly remember the speaker asking how many people in the room marketed their business as “family owned.” It was surprising how many people raised their hands. All those who raised their hands believed that there was true value in touting that familial “connection” as a value to customers.
The Wright Brothers (Simon & Schuster)
Want a great Family Business read by master historian, David McCullough? I’d suggest The Wright Brothers! McCullough is one of my favorite authors, and this account of two brothers who defied the odds and staved off the ridicule of others to launch humans into the air is fascinating.
The two brothers don’t let ego get in their way as they work tirelessly together to create the first manned and motorized flying machine. Can you imagine keeping ego in check when you’re creating something in which history is being made?!?
McCullough uses his usual skills to document the story in depth – showing different sides and bringing the reader right into the lives of both of the Wright Brothers. And it’s a quick read!
QUESTION: HAVE YOU RECENTLY READ A GREAT BOOK THAT SHOWCASES GOOD (OR BAD) FAMILY BUSINESS PRACTICES?
I credit both of my parents for my upbringing. They were divorced when I was young, and I spent time living with both of them through my schooling years. And both had valuable life lessons for me to learn while growing up. But one key lesson I learned from someone who was NOT one of my parents – but, rather, a non-family employee of our company.
Being a non-family employee in a family business has to be a difficult position at times. There always needs to be a delicate balance between the business and the personal sides of work. Sometimes, one needs to take precedence over the other (even when that choice doesn’t necessarily coincide with an employee’s sense of right and wrong).
I’ve never been much of a “binge watcher” when it comes to television shows, but I have to say that I was intrigued by Netflix’s new series, “The Crown.” Admittedly, I’m a bit of a history nerd, so that was my initial reason for deciding to watch. It turns out, the show’s first season was fantastic – and – I ended up binge watching the entire season over the course of a few days! The history, alone, was incredibly interesting (note to self: pick up biography on Winston Churchill), but if you watch it with an eye on family business, you quickly see several issues emerge that all family business members can understand.
In fact, after a quick review of the season in my head, I can easily pinpoint 10 Family Business Issues (spoiler alert – if you haven’t yet watched, some of what I say below may give something away):