"Big Four" Highlights


For the Next Generation

Faith lessons from family business succession planning

By Jason Godin

Family businesses that have flourished for decades globally share a common characteristic – principal control of the company stays within the family. Ford Motor Company, founded by Henry Ford in 1903 and now the fifth largest automobile retailer in the world, is a venerable example of a family business. A more recent example is Walmart, with Sam Walton’s children owning a majority share of the retail giant. Such control passed across generations has translated into family wealth worth billions of dollars.

What’s the secret of keeping a business in the family that can remain competitive in a changing world economy? A joint survey recently released by the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University and the Global Family Business Center of Excellence at EY suggests part of the formula for success has to do with paying great attention to succession planning, the process of passing control of business management and operations within the family, generally from parents to their children. The report detailed some elements of this very personal process which, it seems to me, could inspire families hoping to pass the riches of faith from their generation to the next. Here is how the business study may apply to our family’s faith, with reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Seeing it as a lifelong process, thought about as soon as possible
Families begin and grow within the context of a plan. They start with the covenant of marriage created by God, where one man and one woman freely establish an unbreakable partnership to be honored for the rest of their life. For millennia the Church has called humanity to dignify that fact by acknowledging it as a sacramental institution, a living and loving community “ordered toward the procreation and education of offspring” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601).

Mentoring basic operations
Family businesses profit when operating and sharing best business practices. Such operations entail, for example, aiming consistently to treat customers with respect. Healthy families are no different, especially when married couples respectfully aim for fidelity and fertility (cf. CCC, 1643). When blessed with new life, the family home emerges as a “place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith” and a “school” for learning virtue from their parents (CCC, 1666).

Including the next generation in decision-making, especially in the “big” decisions
In-home education in virtue serves as an invaluable guide for families when making important decisions. How to act privately and publicly, what to look for in a person – through it all the Church points to the duty of parents not only to teach but to model virtue to their children; in essence, to walk the talk together. In this way, family members help each other realize their full health and happiness through prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, as well as faith, hope and charity (cf. CCC, 1803-1829).

Encouraging close, regular dialogue among family members
Passing on the faith requires talking openly, honestly and often. The family starts by a couple communicating consent in marriage (cf. CCC, 1662). Communication continues with each other and with God, particularly through prayer and the sacraments, when falling victim to the darkness of sin.

Fostering a culture of sibling civility, even when knowing disagreements are guaranteed
Families of faith experience discord, despite their best efforts. Brothers or sisters may fall away from the faith. Today it may take the form of a loved one living or advocating for some form of culturally accepted immorality. Consequently, it’s critical to encourage a culture of civility, one where all family members accept and accompany each other with respect, compassion and sensitivity (cf. CCC, 2358).

Engaging actively with the broader community
The business world calls it philanthropy. Faith realizes it through works of corporal and spiritual mercy. It is charitable action that takes no notice of earnings. As St. Leo the Great taught: “Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.”

The faithful Catholic family is in the business of producing a growing faith, one funded by a balanced budget of love and responsibility. It searches for long-term strength and security through investments in social capital, in the process supplying demands for dignity to a world suffering from innumerable forms of poverty. And like the most effective succession plans of family-owned businesses, the Catholic family labors for the next generation to do the same.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.