A Competitive Family and Families with Competition

Steve McClure
Steve McClure

With the Steelers in the Super Bowl again, there is more than the usual focus on the team’s owners; the Rooney family.  The newspapers place an emphasis on the family’s history and family business legacy behind the success of this storied football team.

Reflecting on sports competition and business families, we are reminded every day of competition within the families themselves, especially the competition that takes place between siblings.  Siblings may compete for:

  • Opportunities for jobs in the business and associated recognition for individual success;
  • Access to the family homes/ranches/cabins/boats for themselves and/or their children; and
  • Recognition of the value of their contributions in educational achievement, community or business performance, or for leading a family council.

Even when the competition is managed well by the brothers and sisters or restrained by respect for the most important issues, there may still be score keeping. 

Friendly competition is a part of life with siblings, and it is more a “normal characteristic of the family culture” than a problem for many successful business families.  In a football game, the rules are well known and understood, there are objective decision makers (the referees), and there is transparency (national television).  These are also fundamentals needed in business families even when the competition is not so fierce.

Successful business families have well-understood policies for how the family relates to the business (the rules), use objectivity (independent directors and non-family managers), and find multiple ways to keep everyone informed (transparency).  Also, from time to time, they bring up the fact that they are all now in their 50s and they still do things that look like they might be competing for their parents’ attention and favor – then they have a good laugh together at their own expense.

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