Rick has extensive experience with high net worth individuals and families, working with them in both a financial and governance capacity. He thrives on understanding the business and entrepreneurial journey of individuals and families and then using creative and strategic thinking skills to help them succeed.
In my years of work with intergenerational families and businesses across the globe, I’ve come to recognize the importance culture plays in the formation of an effective business transition plan, a family succession plan, and ultimately, the foundation of a family’s legacy.
One person’s good family business planning is another’s recipe for disaster. Why? Cultural context. A perspective on the family business, and indeed family dynamics in general, varies from West to East.
At its most basic unit, the West is an individualist culture. Think of half the movies you have ever seen; glorifying the lone ranger, the person going against the odds, fighting convention, and being vindicated in the end. The singular person forsakes family, small children, and a big mortgage. The populace is weaned on individual rights.
The notion of going against family wishes is often seen in Western pop culture. A famous example goes back to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, first published in 1597. The star-crossed lovers defy their families—the Montagues and Capulets—to pursue their individual versions of true love!
In Eastern culture, the greater good and the family unit are much more important. An individual is part of an interconnected group, that results in a set of mutual obligations. For example, the family supports the younger generation materially but then expects loyalty and obedience in return.
I still recall a conversation I had with a colleague when I was living in Hong Kong. He was born in Hong Kong and earned a business degree at McGill where he planned to work and make a life in Canada. He was doing so until his late 20s. Then his older brother called him one day; he was needed in the family business and has been living in Hong Kong ever since.
In an Eastern context, the notion of a family business is different than in the West. The concept of “blood is thicker than water” could have been coined in the East. My Hong Kong friends speak of the clan and the ancestral village in China. The family prizes loyalty above many other qualities. Societal norms provide underlying glue.
In our interconnected world, this can result in an additional layer of complication. East and West are no longer easily separated. The dynamics of West and East increasingly coexist within multicultural societies and, more minutely, within families and their enterprises as they expand throughout the Pacific Rim, from Vancouver to Singapore.
Some family business challenges arise, for example, when the business and its founders are rooted in Eastern culture and the next generation has been influenced by a Western mindset. This results in complications and misunderstandings as the end result is more independent-minded individuals trying to exist within an existing family structure with differing values.
The bottom line: a key to success is to appreciate the impact of culture, stemming from context, on the family business. And furthermore, the importance of taking the time to understand the different perspectives. The type and depth of commitment to a family business will reflect the culture—and increasingly cultures—of the individual family members. The perspectives of culture, East and West, will shape the family business stage in which each will play a part.