It’s A Family Business!

It’s been nearly three years since Irem and I were joined by a baby daughter Amazon. They’ve been exciting years and Amazon changed our lives. During her first year we were able to continue to work more or less as usual. The nature of our work and the proximity of our office meant that we could rotate her care between the two of us. We spent our last year in Istanbul delivering a training course in Family Therapy on behalf of the Turkish Association for Child Guidance and Mental Health. This was a lot of work for Irem because she was one of the few people able to translate the kinds of concepts required to meet European Training Standards into Turkish.

When we were teaching we brought Amazon with us. She even came with us when we presented at International congresses. We didn’t consider a child minder, or nanny, which is a common practice here. In our professional lives we had seen too many families whose highly educated parents asked why their child-minded children spoke and acted like the children of rural villagers. The truth was plain – the children had been loved and nurtured by a succession of young girls from Bulgaria, other former Eastern bloc countries, or Anatolia, for whom such work seems highly paid.

When Amazon became mobile it became impossible for her to come to work with us, so we stopped practicing. We moved to this house on the Mediterranean coastline just north of Rhodes. Irem redesigned the layout of our home and I supervised its conversion into a permanent family residence. Amazon continues to thrive and has now added the ability to speak in two languages to her mobility. This year she has learned how to swim.

We haven’t been quite able to give up work completely. A family nearby that owned two factories came to us for help. When somebody approaches us for a consultation it’s often the family member who feels most isolated, or is most pained by the situation that troubles their business. In this family it was the youngest of three brothers. The mother and brothers had inherited the family business from their father upon his death. The eldest brother a doctor had never worked in the business; lived away from the area and was married with a growing family. The middle and the youngest brothers managed the factories. Production tended to be seasonal and during the holiday season when less units were required the smaller factory run by the youngest brother closed and the larger and more modern one run by middle brother during the winter would be jointly managed by both of them – well in theory anyway!

The fact is that once the younger brother was installed in the main factory the middle brother would take a a holiday sometimes being away for months at a time. The situation was then one where four family members held equal shares and received equal remuneration. The business bought various assets such as holiday houses and apartments in distant cities. Only two family members, the two youngest brothers, worked in the business and of these only the younger brother worked twelve months of the year.

You may wonder how this situation came about? The youngest brother came late into the family and was the father’s favourite. Had tradition not been such a strong force in Turkey he would probably have been nominated as father’s successor. In fact the father died without naming a successor and the result was that the younger brother was the de facto successor in terms of responsibility. He managed all the day-to-day operations of the business effectively but had no sway with the family board, who saw little reason to change.

This kind of situation isn’t uncommon. Irem and I have encountered it several times in our careers both as family therapists, and also as family business consultants. We’re now working with a few other businesses that are local to us. As our house is located in a model village on University Teachers Co-operative we also find our brains picked by academics.

Random clients doesn’t pay our bills but then when we came here to live on this beach we weren’t, and still aren’t, relying on income from a business to pay our way. This summer I thought I might take a sailing course and begin to study to become a skipper. Next year I figured I’d buy a boat because that’s what people do around here – maybe I will – but I’m not sure if I like water that much?

Indeed Irem and I would never have met eleven years ago at The University of London’s, Institute of Psychiatry if sun and sand were enough to satisfy me. Irem came there to study for an M.Sc. in Family Therapy – I was already a clinician and went there for a holiday – I wanted access to the library in order to read a number of papers that are often quoted in more recent journals, but which were hard to obtain outside of a specialist library. For me it was three months of blissful private study and I found Irem lent her my photocopying card and the rest is history.

Irem supported my idea about buying a boat but worried that it wouldn’t exercise my little grey cells sufficiently. It was then that I encountered Ecademy. I thought Ecademy a wonderful idea and especially I enjoyed reading Penny Power’s story of how she and Thomas came up with the idea over a pizza. I read how, like us, she opted to be a hands-on parent whilst the children were small; of her belief in winning by sharing; why it’s important to personalise our Ecademy profiles, (because people buy from people they can see and trust); and how her initial inspiration came from James Redfield’s novel ‘The Celestine Prophecy’.

In ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ James Redfield suggests we need to be aware of nine insights:

* Becoming aware of the “coincidences” in one’s life.
* Experiencing a heightened understanding of world history and human evolution.
* Becoming aware that all living things have energy fields.
* Becoming aware that people try to steal other people’s energy, creating conflict.
* Realising that control dramas do not help you or others.
* Becoming aware that you have a dream and a destiny to fulfil.
* Becoming aware that many of your thoughts and actions are guided.
* Realising that other people sometimes provide the answers that you seek.
* Understanding that humankind are on a journey towards living in perfect harmony with each other and nature, as our world evolves over the next 1,000 years into an Eden-like paradise.

This was swiftly followed by The Tenth Insight a second book in the series. The tenth insight may be summarised as:

* to remember a personal vision that will guide our lives and a common world vision that will assist us in working together to create a spiritual culture.

Like many people I find Redfield’s ideas attractive although I’m mindful that they are presented in a works of fiction. For example I sometimes wonder if, as a species, we will survive for another two generations let alone 1000 years? I figure if I can contribute to a world that provides a possibility that my, (and your), great grandchildren to may live healthy satisfying lives that would be enough. If we get that far then they can take it from there.

And that brings me back to the family business and how it sometimes gets itself into trouble and hurts the people most founders of family businesses aspire to help most. All too often what starts as a noble vision, or a serendipitous action, changes to something painful and/or contentious after too few exciting years.

Some marriages break down because of the long hours demanded by husband and wife business partners. Arguments occur on matters of policy relating to both business and child-care especially concerning time management.

There are, however, other reasons for marital breakdown other than family business pressures. Last night after spending an hour attempting to persuade myself to give up any further notion of managing a business as a distraction I grabbed an old copy ‘Observer Woman’ which was lying with other English papers by the bedside. I opened it at random and my eye settled on the following line:

“Exhaustion is the principal reason I think marriage and sex do not mix. When we’ve both been working all day, plus I’ve done supper, bath, bed and story for a three – and six year old . . lying on the sofa and watching rubbish on telly seems infinitely preferable to cavorting about in naughty undies. At least I don’t have to shave my legs and watch Wife Swap.”

I turned over and stroked Irem’s leg, it was reassuringly smooth, but we didn’t lock ourselves together in unbridled passion but instead had a long talk about ‘The Family Business School’, how we see it developing and how it could change our lives, both for good and ill.

I mentioned to Irem that I’m now in my third week as a paid up member of Ecademy. Without much effort I’m rated good by 3, I have a testimonial and twenty-seven connections. I have no idea if this is good, or bad, but I’ve ‘met’ some interesting people in the process. We also talked about all the academic friends we will also need to network with off-line; about alliances, partnership funding, and service provision. Irem reminded me that I need a new photo for my Ecademy profile. “You’ll be needing a neatly pressed shirt”, she said, “It’s great to be talking about business matters again.” Then she got up and ironed it!

Kindly note: The case example quoted is accurate in structure, but certain features have been changed to preserve the privacy of the family involved. The summary of ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ and ‘The Tenth Insight’ are abstracted from Wikepedia. The quotation about ‘Exhaustion and Sex’ is attributed to Lowri Turner, in ‘——–So How’s Your Sex Life These days?’ by Polly Vernon – Observer Woman, October 2006.

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