All posts by John L. Ward, Ph.D.

John Ward is a co-founder of The Family Business Consulting Group, Inc., and is co-director of The Center for Family Enterprises at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management (Chicago, USA) where he is Clinical Professor of Family Enterprises. Ward teaches and studies family enterprise continuity, ownership, governance and philanthropy.

The Paradox WikiLeaks Exposes

John Ward
John Ward

WikiLeaks and its founder froth strong emotions, for sure. At the roots, it seems, is a classical paradox for business owning families.

WikiLeaks supporters argue that exposure trumps secrecy. Seen more as a paradox the roots of the polarity are transparency and privacy.  Both, of course, have their value – and their downsides.

The transparency-privacy paradox is one of great relevance to business families:

–        Building community goodwill and market brand through active PR risks a long tradition of family modesty;

–        Financial transparency with employees and other stakeholders challenges the competitive benefits of being a private company;

–        Proactively shaping public opinion can increase security risks for wealthy families.

We often frame this paradox as Public Faces and Private Lives. Can you get the best of both? What’s your experience?



John Ward
John Ward

Did you know that about 30% of all family businesses say they are considering co-CEOs in the future? 

While not recommended by management textbooks, the idea has worked well sometimes. For example, the German Miele white goods producer has had co-CEOs for generations!

The split up of Motorola this week into two companies ends a co-CEO situation that has existed over the past several years. In separation they were asked how the co-CEO model had worked. They said several things:

  • It was tough for both of them.
  • They knew being sole CEO will be much more focused and fast.
  • It can work well for a limited, purposeful period of time.
  • To work requires lots of communication, communication, communication.

Food for thought.


Top UK CEO Pleads for All Companies to Act Like Family Businesses

John Ward
John Ward

Tony Leahy, the retiring CEO of the UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, offered great insights to what’s different about family firms. Though Tesco is no longer a family business, he explained, “Tesco began life as a family business and one of our strengths is that we’ve not forgotten the values and approach we inherited from our founder.” 

He goes on [the underlining is mine]: “We have a stable management.”  In fact, he and many of his top management colleagues spent their entire careers at Tesco. “Our employees are encouraged to own a stake in the company; and there’s a willingness to take risks and to plan for long-term value creation… they enjoy the benefit of loyalty, long-term thinking and the courage to make bold decisions. Add to that a slim line, tight management and the stability families can bring and you have laid strong foundations for a powerful company.”

He closes with a profound observation about the distinction of family company ownership when he asks fund managers who invest in listed companies to consider, “Next time you’re in a meeting with management from a company…try referring to them as ‘we’ rather than ‘you’.”

SOURCE: The Times, 9/27/10, pp 44-45