The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. It’s a movie about hope. Hope for those in a situation that seems inescapable. Hope lost by some and almost lost by others. And, in many cases, hope is what keeps people moving on.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, look it up and watch it right away. The scene that the main picture in this post depicts is the parole scene for Morgan Freeman’s character, Red. To be more precise, it’s a parole scene that has occurred year-after-year for forty years where his character is asked if he was “rehabilitated” in order to determine if he was ready for parole. Every time this parole hearing happened, Red proclaimed that he was rehabilitated – only to have his parole denied.
The Spring semester at colleges are in full swing right now. Many students are already taking mid-terms as they progress through their educational year. Job fairs are being held and many students are looking at employers as they consider their futures. Other students may have a job lined up for them at their family businesses – either through choice (or by obligation). It seems like it was only yesterday when I was at that point (though “yesterday” was nearly 25 years ago).
Juniata College is my alma mater – and – it had it’s annual Job Fair the other week. It led me to reflect on what I was thinking as a college junior, and I remembered a speech I gave to incoming freshmen and other students (I was Student Government President at the time). I held onto that speech in my scrapbook, so I went and dug it out today (yes – that’s an actual photo of it in all of its dot-matrix glory above). Then, as if by divine intervention, Brad Paisley’s song “Letter to Me” happened to play on my Pandora channel this morning – so – it seemed like I was being called to write this post.
And while Brad Paisley’s song is about his current self writing to his younger self, I thought it might be interesting to flip the table and see what my younger self is saying to me today.
The #MeToo movement is sweeping across the United States at this time. Famous Hollywood elite and public officials are being called out for claims of sexual harassment against both women and men. Such lurid headlines make news organizations ready to pounce. After all, sex sells.
[Photo courtesy of: https://todaytesting.com/]
And while it’s easy to sit back and contemplate the moral degradation of our public figures, it’s easy to forget that the same things are happening everywhere. Sexual harassment allegations are being made right down to the mom-and-pop stores of America, and no one is immune from claims of inappropriate behavior.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of The Crown on Netflix. In fact, all of the issues that surface in most every family business are highlighted in that series – and – was the subject of my very first post for this site. The second season is already here (and, yep, already binge watched).
(Photo Credit: The Crown (Netflix))
One of the plot lines that as evident in both the first and second seasons was the story behind the Duke of Windsor – and – how he was essentially blackballed by the family. His past actions led him to be exiled from England, and he required permission of the Royal Family to re-enter the country.
For those of us who were unfamiliar with the full story, The Crown did a fantastic job of slowly introducing the viewers to the full backstory. For much of the first season, I thought it was merely because the Duke had abdicated the throne for the non-Royal woman he loved who would not be accepted by the family – since a longstanding tradition of the Royals to marry only those deemed worthy of the Crown.
It really seemed like an outdated and ridiculous premise to those of us living in the present.
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):