‘The trouble is, you think you have time.’

By Prof. Enrique Soriano

This quote is often attributed to the Buddha. In simple words, we procrastinate by putting off important things because we think we have time to do them later. But there may not be any ‘later’. We are all here on borrowed time. As Jack Kornfield said in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, “Life is short; make good use of it.”

Visionaries and business leaders need not necessarily go through rough patches of adversity because most of the problems besetting family owned businesses are predictable and for the most part internally induced. It can be the founder of the business refusing to yield or share power or having entitled children with a mindset that ownership is a birthright. Whatever internal issues are plaguing the family business, for me that’s a good thing. Why? Because we can anticipate and address the ‘what ifs’ or future conflict years and even decades before it actually happens. So when we make use of our time to address these future events, then as leaders, we have done our part.

As Kornfield adaptation of something from Carlos Castaneda’s fictional Don Juan in his third book, “Journey to Ixtlan,” where the shaman says: “There is one simple wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time…If you don’t think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change?

All of us and most especially business owners must recognize that our time in this world is short. As we age, time beats faster. And it can help us appreciate life and see what the important things are. Buddha encourages us to reflect on our own “temporariness” and how, in the light of that, it’s important that we take responsibility for our lives.

The real challenge of family owned businesses is pursuing succession where legacy and stewardship must be embedded in the journey, where preserving the wealth and maintaining family harmony and making sure all family members are aligned towards a shared purpose should be emphasized. Where fair rules are agreed upon, signed on and performances are measured with the appropriate accountability imposed on family members.

To quote Ken McCracken and Hakan Hillerström (2010) from their article “Fourteen Steps to Stronger Family Governance, “The greatest strength in a family business is a clear and strong sense of shared purpose among the owners and the wider family. It can generate a sense of belonging, worth and shared resolve that non-family businesses are unlikely to be able to generate among their owners. This is a competitive advantage that family businesses should try to maximise. Without a shared purpose, there is nothing to bind family members to each other and their collective investment in the business. As time unfolds, no amount of governance or technical structures can prevent disintegration, often at the cost of much conflict and unhappiness.”

After years of research and actual engagements, I have identified the distinct characteristics of successful family businesses that have weathered more than a century of adversity and I enjoin leaders to embrace each virtue below.

  • Good parenting
  • Shared Vision Mission Values
  • Commitment on Family and Shareholder Agreements
  • Investment on People: Family and Non Family Talent
  • The Right Business/Family Balance
  • Compelling Business Model Innovation
  • Institutionalizing Communication and Transparency Protocols
  • Ownership Policy on Sibling/Branch Partnership
  • Next Generation Leadership to the most deserving
  • Institutionalize Communication
  • Engaging members via the Family Council/Meetings

Life is unpredictable. When you’re with someone, you have no idea if you’ll ever see each other again. Everyone you see today—that may be your last encounter. The pandemic was a wakeup call. Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist, would often say, “Think about those around you, about those you’re connected to with ties of blood or love. Life is short; be kind.”

If I may hasten to amplify my advice to all family business leaders, start the journey now. Time is not on your side. Failing to initiate governance means you have an 80% chance of squandering away the business you built with your life. Think about it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here