Teach Your Children Well, or the Value of Toilet Scrubbing…

Joe Schmieder
Joe Schmieder

“Let them eat cake,” proclaimed Marie Antoinette upon learning that the peasants in France had no bread.  Since brioche was enriched, as opposed to normal bread, the quote reflected the queen’s obliviousness to the nature of a famine.  This arrogant attitude exhibited by a family leader of a nation is linked to the initiation of the French Revolution.

We find that occasionally younger generation family members of successful multi-generational family businesses may inadvertently exhibit this attitude. As they grow up around tremendous wealth and privilege, they sometimes act in ways that show their obliviousness to what it takes to keep a family business prospering from one generation to the next.  When the younger generation enters the family business profoundly out of touch with reality, they actually create the seeds of discontent among the “working class” of the family firm. 

As with the revolutionary reaction to Marie Antoinette, valuable employees of a family business will carefully watch the motives of the next generation, and may chose to resign if they do not believe the family will be properly led in the future.  It is the wrong signal to send employees when family members do not show the same level of passion and work ethic that the employees observed from earlier generations.  Thus, it is never too early to teach the younger generation the gift of work – hard work. 

Clean the bathrooms at the company early in life, and your family firm will most likely avoid the “Marie Antoinette” syndrome.

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