Does Murdoch give family business a bad name?

Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

While I have to admit to not following the current scandal of the Murdoch Family and their businesses very closely, as an advisor to families in business I am sad to see this story, in part because of the very negative impression the public is left with about families who own and operate substantial businesses. 

Clearly the “News of the World” case is a very big story and the Murdoch family has a lot to answer for – so it is entirely appropriate that the media take a large interest; and a relief to see the Murdoch family held to account.  What pains me in addition to the ‘wrong doing’ in this case – is the resulting ‘broad brush’ negative image the public is left with about families that own and operate businesses.  Here are two recent newspaper article titles & short quotes that illustrate my point:

News Corp: A family business.  “Murdoch is protected from angry investors by an obscenely nepotistic shareholding structure…” (Guardian in the UK)

Scandal Splinters a Family business. “I and others doubt that the charms of a global media enterprise being run as a corner grocery store will continue…” (New York Times)

It may well be that the overlap of family and business had a role to play in the Murdoch situation, but it is a shame that these significant headlines are never counterbalanced with an equally captivating positive story of how a family business invests heavily in its local hospital, provides scholarships for the handicapped children of their employees, or makes deep cuts in their dividends to avoid layoffs.  These are real examples of ‘good corporate citizenship’ I have seen with family business clients in just the past two months.

While there will always be individuals we may admire, and some we may vilify in the world of family business; in my experience, families in business do a lot of good in the world – but they often do it quietly, and that rarely makes any kind of headline. 

We’d love to hear your stories of family owned businesses ‘doing good’ – whatever that good might be, just as a reminder that there is a lot more to family business than what we typically see portrayed in the news.

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