By Prof. Enrique Soriano
Let me share the case of a prominent family that approached me many years ago. For confidentiality purposes, there is no mention of either the family name or the country where they operate. The group was classified as an ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) family operating in Asia. The wealth of the family then was estimated at US $5 Billion. The founder had a 34-year-old eccentric and rambunctious child. He was known as a “party animal” and was fond of hosting parties. His father would tell me that he was the male equivalent of Paris Hilton in terms of drinking and partying. He wasn’t doing anything illegal, but for many years, starting when he was still a teenager, the parents would always bail him out whenever he got suspended for driving without a license. He was also caught drinking underage several times, further embarrassing his influential parents in front of local media.
After graduating from a local university, he interned in the family business, and in less than six months on the job, his father fired him for reporting to work intoxicated. Feeling hopeless and unloved, he packed his bags and moved overseas.
With his decision, his parents were hopeful that he would change for the better in unfamiliar territory, especially when he ended up falling in love with a British national working in the financial sector. Their story turned into some “whirlwind kind of romance,” and after a few months, they decided to tie the knot. To avoid a media frenzy, the family agreed that the wedding take place in Spain. It was kept a secret and only close friends and relatives attended the intimate gathering. His parents were pleased with the events following the wedding, but just when they thought their son would finally settle and live a normal life away from the glitz and glamour in their home country, the marriage went downhill.
Less than a year later, he filed for divorce and talked to his parents about wanting to go home, even promising to change. His exasperated father remarked, “It is easier to run a conglomerate with thousands of executives but it is far more difficult managing an offspring.”
Why did this happen? Was this solely the parent’s fault? Or was it the son’s own doing?
Every Child Craves for Parental Love
During the last three years, my team handled dozens of so-called “black sheep” family members, and in the course of our findings, 80% of those interviewed claimed that as scions of influential and powerful parents, they often suffer from extreme pressure to live up to success. Almost all of them vented that the lack of parental love was the overarching issue as to why they acted differently. Psychologists we worked with correlated this dysfunctional behavior with having absentee fathers (or mothers). Examples that these children expressed were mostly childhood traumas like parents skipping school activities and other memorable events like graduation, theater performances, musical or ballet recitals, sports tournaments, etc., in exchange for work. In short, these children of affluent families were one in saying that the love language at home, 24/7, was all about money and never any form of parental love. A couple of what we observed were probably exaggerations, but many of the ‘black sheeps’ we encountered were authentic and sincere in their expressions of sadness, and some were even grimacing while recalling their difficult childhood.
Another observation worth mentioning was that business owners with a “black sheep” offspring may have suffered from a traumatic event with their parents themselves. This manifested when several of the “black sheep” children stated that they were embroiled with their parents in a series of major clashes immediately after joining the business. They shared how their fathers “became unreasonable, aggressive, and hard-driving both at home and in the workplace, creating a lot of pressure on these children to be like their fathers.”
And, of course, what added to the burden was the fact that the entire family was always exposed to public scrutiny. Knowing that the family’s behavior was being watched by the community where they operated, many children and relatives ended up getting into trouble.