Not too long ago, a client asked how he could get his family members more excited about the family business.  “What would you do?” he asked.  “Well, what are you trying to sell them: The business or the legacy?”  I asked.  He paused and then replied, “I don’t know the difference.” 

Does that sound familiar to you?  If you’re the family leader, can you distinguish between the business and the legacy?  While they may be one and the same to you, other family members may not make the same connection.

The farther away potential successors get from your motivation and perspectives, the more likely they are to have different understandings of what the legacy really is.  As an example, one of my clients has done quite well for two generations by pretty much ignoring the “green” movement.  Now comes the tail end of the third generation, and guess what repulses them about the business? 

In my client’s situation, the third generation wants to take the business in a “green” direction and begin to repair the damage that’s been done over the first two generations.

This client has spent some money building a brand for his business; the target market has undoubtedly been external.  If you can relate to this situation and your family members are rejecting the business and the legacy, then it’s time to start directing your branding efforts to internal and external markets.  Fortunately, it’s not too late to do something that creates business and legacy value in their minds.  

  • Begin by meeting with family members, even those who have chosen alternative careers, and begin talking with them about your own motivation and perspective about the business and the legacy.  You may be surprised at how they really feel about what you’ve spent a lifetime developing. 
  • Decide for yourself if there’s a difference between the business and the legacy.  Alfred Nobel – of Nobel Prize fame – learned how the public viewed his legacy the hard way.  When his brother died, the local newspaper confused the brother and Alfred in the obituary column.  So, Alfred got to read about having created a horribly destructive tool called dynamite.  The press was not nice. 

Nobel immediately decided to separate the wealth engine from the legacy.  He kept the business – that was the golden goose – but he used the proceeds to create a legacy of prizes related to the betterment of the human race. 

Now we’re not passing judgment on Nobel’s business.  Dynamite had a positive impact as well as negative.  We’re just showing how the business and the legacy can be separated and how one can feed the other.   

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