What Is the Toughest Case That You Ever Had?

What Is the Toughest Case
That You Ever Had?

Understanding the Family Business
May, 1997

by Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.
Genus Resources, Inc.

The toughest cases are the ones that are the most heart wrenching. The toughest case that I ever had was a situation in which a very talented member of the younger generation had an addiction problem. His parents had continued to “rescue” him each time he got himself into difficulty.There was no ostensible reason for this young man to have a problem.The parents were loving, involved, thoughtful and supportive people.

The family shared the problem with me early in the assessment stage of our engagement.Although the family member with the problem acknowledged that he had a problem, he was incapable of taking responsibility for his behavior.He suggested that his problem stemmed from his father’s emotional unavailability to him as a youngster and that his father treated his brother with favoritism.

He complained about not having enough responsibility and authority and said that he was more capable than his brother and should be the one taking over the business.He took this stance in the face of addiction problems that had wreaked havoc in the family as well as in the business.Had his last name been any other than the name of the business, he would have been fired years ago when he “inappropriately” stole money from the business.

The toughest part of the engagement was to get the parents to understand that their historical behavior of rescuing him and protecting him “enabled” him to continue his addiction and was not helping him to deal with his problem.We took the position that if his addictive behavior recurred and he acted in an unprofessional manner or behaved in a way that was outside the moral and ethical code that the business expected of all employees, he would have to be terminated just as any other employee would be.

When family members are held to a dramatically different double standard within a family owned business, it contaminates the cohesive structure of the business.Morale of the employees is affected and it is impossible to hire and retain competent and professional non-family senior managers.If an individual is never held accountable for his behavior, he will never be given the opportunity to address his problem.

We developed a “contract” to which the son agreed.The contract listed behaviors which would result in his dismissal as well as procedures to implement.The son left the business two years later.His departure had an immediate positive impact on the business.The credibility of the family was restored.

The tough part for me was watching the parents do what was so counter-intuitive to them: They had to let their son go.They had to watch helplessly as their son struggled with his own problems, understanding that he was the only person who could correct his problems.Watching their pain and frustration made this my toughest case.

Note:The son had an individual therapist and the family was in therapy with the son.The entire intervention was coordinated with these professionals.

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D., is a family business consultant and psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience as an individual and family therapist.Dr. Davidow, co-founder and principal of Genus Resources, Inc., has pioneered the multi-disciplined approach to family business consulting with his partner, Richard L. Narva, Esq.