I enjoy finding nuggets of family business wisdom in unusual places. Recently, I found one such gem while watching a video of Michael Lewis (the author of popular books such as “The Big Short” and “Moneyball”) giving the commencement address at Princeton University this past June. In particular, one comment he offered to the graduates stood out to me: “Above all, recognize that if you’ve had success, you’ve also had luck. And, with luck comes obligation.”
In my experience, successful family businesses embody Mr. Lewis’s words. They are very aware that their current success is built upon the foundation laid by their ancestors’ hard work and good fortune. Rather than believing their accident of birth entitles them to continued success, the best family business leaders see the obligation that comes with this legacy. For example, strong and lasting family businesses are typically very involved in their communities, as Mr. Lewis encouraged this year’s Princeton graduates to be.
My only quibble with Mr. Lewis is that giving back – especially when viewed from the perspective of most family businesses – is not an obligation. It’s an honor.
Highlights of Mr. Lewis’s speech can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwNmGd_D5cA