Cause #42 Next Generation “Issues”


Next generation “issues” are a common cause of conflict in Family Business.  We’re talking here about macro, contextual causes.  Lots of other micro causes are covered in other chapters – specifically around personality differences and succession scenarios.

A Family Business is defined as any business that substantially involves at least 2 family members as its owners and operators.  And it seems the more generations of family they have in their pedigrees the more seriously families and businesses tend to take themselves – as Business Families. Indeed,

Many Business Families seem to date the beginning of their family’s recorded history from the founding of their Family Business – as if the family didn’t exist, in any substantial sense, before that time.

Business Families are easily motivated (not to mention manipulated) by the idea of passing their business interests onto future generations – even those as yet unborn.  Indeed, that’s the whole point about being a Business Family.  BUT those next generations can cause significant conflicts, both between themselves, and between members of different generations.

Why is this so?

Prime causes are: (a) increasing diversity between individuals of different generations and (b) lack of effort to create harmonious family teams within new generations from young ages.

Differences in: personalities, education, and geo/socio-economic environments generate wildly diverse personal and family needs and interests.  For example:  European migrants who arrived in Australia after WWII – deeply traumatised by years of military conflict and personal danger, with few to no personal possessions; no family, social, or business networks, and lacking familiarity with the culture, customs and language of their new homes – found themselves still facing serious challenges to survive, let alone build successful new lives.

Inevitably, they developed very different attitudes to work, family, life in general, and community than their increasingly comfortable children and grandchildren – whose  higher levels of comfort and security were largely earned through the risks taken, and the blood, sweat and tears expended by their forebears, with relatively little effort on their part.

So it’s really nobody’s fault that major conflicts arise when next generation family members don’t display the characteristics their parents, uncles and aunts want to see before they’re comfortable about handing over the keys to the kingdom.

Similarly, siblings and cousins who haven’t learnt how to respect, trust and work with each other as they’ve grown up, are unlikely to be natural allies with strong motivations to work together to build the fortunes of the business, and/or the family, in later life.


Expose and engage next generation members, as young as possible, in the ethos and operations of the family’s business through vacation work, attendance at special business events, etc.

Build next generation teams through shared activities working together in committees / working groups, including: investment, philanthropy, community engagement, family social events, and environmental activism.

Teach fundamental business concepts and skills to next generation members, as family team members.  Topics could include: communication, negotiation, problem-solving, decision-making, effective meetings, research, project planning, project management, leading and managing, teamwork.  Get this right and young family members will see the difference (and advantage) their training makes at school, and in their private lives.  An enhanced sense of worthwhile purpose can stimulate ongoing interest in being involved in the family business, in some capacity.

Organise regular family gatherings to build understandings and relationships between family members, across generations.  Family Forums and Retreats provide great opportunities to enable multi-generational teams to work on entertaining, creative / competitive projects, together.  We often see older family members gaining increased appreciation and respect for young (sometimes very young) family members when they see the innovative ways they approach well-designed team challenges.

Help older family members to understand that the family’s legacy is in good hands when they’ve taught their children and grandchildren to: “stand on their shoulders, not in their shoes”.

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