The Family Dramas of Succession and Inheritance
by Dennis T. Jaffe, Ph.D.
Saybrook Graduate School, and the Wharton School
Viewing family business in many countries, I have been struck by how, despite great cultural differences and practices, the major themes of the family and its intersection with business seem to be universal. The drama of the business patriarch–fierce, confident and powerful–and sons and daughters who struggle to find a role and a place in a universe where the patriarchal shadow is writ large, always lies in the background for the overt challenges to sustain and develop family business. As each business faces forces of globalization, growth, diversification, and competition, each family must also resolve its own dramas around legacy, inheritance, succession and family justice. In this article, I want to bring these archetypal dramas out of the shadows, and suggestion some ways that families can reduce some of the negative emotional energy that can limit the future of a business.
Freud used the Oedipus myth to dramatize a violent model of family succession where the sons plot to overthrow their father, to take up his authority and split it among them. Freud saw this bloody drama in many biblical and historical tales of royal sons ending their father’s reigns, and saw this as a somewhat universal succession model. The drama of sons’ jealousy and rivalry for power has been told in the biblical tales of Cain and Abel, and Joseph and his brothers. Since such myths are strongly masculine or feminine, I will use such pronouns in my reporting, rather than make them sex neutral. The feminine side of mythology provides images and stories of nurture and fertility, and collaboration and partnership, personified in the Earth Mother, which may account for the cooperative nature of cross-gender succession. More…