Siblings to Cousins: Fear not the Larger Group

Amy Schuman
Amy Schuman

Many families are daunted by the task of transitioning from a relatively small sibling stage to a larger and more complex cousin stage.

However, there are advantages to the larger cousin group that may not be readily apparent, for example:

  • First, the cousin relationship is usually less intense and history-filled than the sibling relationship. There is more distance and healthier boundaries between cousins than between sisters and brothers. This can make conflict resolution and decision-making easier with cousins, even if the group is larger.
  • Second, the larger cousin group is usually more accepting of policies, procedures and ‘one person, one vote’ approaches than the smaller sibling group. Siblings can be more uncompromising and inflexible, expecting to see their preferences prevail in the smaller group – each perhaps at times assuming that they would get to be ‘the decider’ as their parent had been.  Cousins tend to have an easier time with the notion of collaboration and shared authority.
  • Third, the greater diversity in the larger cousin group can bring valuable strengths to the family and the business. Diversity in geography, age, lifestyle, occupation, and hobbies brings tremendous richness and a plethora of perspectives. Families that can be open and welcoming of this variety find themselves greatly enriched, more resilient and over time, more reflective of the wide world.

As you move from siblings to cousins, rather than being daunted by the larger size and complexity of the ownership group, consider exploring the advantages and finding ways to harness them to your benefit!

Our book, From Siblings To Cousins, Prospering in the Third Generation and Beyond,  (Aronoff & Ward) is a great primer on this subject.

A helpful article that explores the dynamics of later cousin groups is: “The Challenges of a Large Shareholder Group”, by Klett and Weichers in The Family Business Succession Handbook, available from Family Business Magazine.


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