EDITORIAL: Red or Blue, Blood's Thicker Than Water

EDITORIAL: Red or Blue, Blood's Thicker Than Water - In Britain, the family is not just the basic component of the domestic edifice. It is also the building block of commerce in the world of work. It's a bit of a surprise to discover that, despite our fas

by MATTHEW GWYTHER, Editor..BL.- By
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In Britain, the family is not just the basic component of the domestic edifice. It is also the building block of commerce in the world of work. It's a bit of a surprise to discover that, despite our fascination for public companies, family enterprises account for 76% of UK businesses. At least half the complete workforce - excluding those who toil for the government - are employed in family concerns.

The family business model has a lot going for it. It is often durable and dependable in tough times, able to take a long-term view during a downturn, when impatient and demanding institutional shareholders would drop equity like a hot brick (but not necessarily before getting half the board sacked). Yet family firms are subtle and difficult to run, because they create their own unique set of problems: succession issues, poor communication and lacklustre strategic planning.

Blood ties with your work colleagues can provide a powerful commercial advantage, but imagine having to fire your own son if your ideas for the business differ, as one of the subjects of our 'Family Fortunes' feature this month once did. Tough decisions cannot be sidestepped if a family business is to avoid passing through the classic cycle of 'rags to rags in three generations'. Just ask Rupert Murdoch, the Fords, the Sainsbury clan or Gianni Agnelli ...

There have certainly been bumpy times recently for our highest-profile family firm - the Windsors. The monarchy is a real business and worthy of examination as such. In our feature 'Royal Flush', we examine how the Queen's jubilee will bring a bustle of economic activity not only for the monarch but also for those companies that feed off royal association.

And what would be the economic effect if we went down the republican route?

Even 30 years ago it would have been thought treasonable to attempt a cost/benefit analysis of this institution. These days, we have a far more pragmatic attitude, and even amid the wash of sympathy felt after the death of the Queen Mother, polls showed that 42% of Britons wanted the monarchy either abolished or 'radically reformed'. It's almost as if we regard ourselves as shareholders demanding action - and not just at the AGM but almost every day of the year.

The Windsors are now moving to modernise to survive. This change is about far more than a proactive attitude to PR. All the signs suggest they are about to de-merge some core assets, de-layer, offer a new range of products and to start a proper grooming process for the next chairman of the board.

My guess is that Windsors plc will continue trading from their multitude of stately outlets for some time to come

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