Fighting for the throne: A father and son conflict (Part 1)

THE case study you are about to read is a consolidated version of five father-son conflicts that my office, W+B Advisory, resolved in the last quarter of 2016.

The families are dispersed in different parts of Asia but with almost similar dynamics.

For family business consultants helping to untangle this form of complicated relationship, the article is not meant to provide solutions but gives family members a better understanding of the trigger or pain points or to put it mildly, the sources of conflict.

In my years of coaching family businesses, there is really no hard and fast rule nor a one-size-fits all solution. Each family conflict is unique and complex and my singular purpose in writing this sensitive topic is to enable families to act with dispatch when confronted with conflict situations.

Growing number of father-son conflicts

Working with Asian families has afforded me a deeper understanding of the conflict. I have seen, heard and intervened in cases involving parents (mostly fathers) pitted against their children, siblings against siblings, cousins against cousins, family members against in-laws, children against half siblings/adopted children, etc.

I also want to sound the alarm bell: generational conflict involving founders and their children in the Philippines and overseas are growing in number. And to finally put this topic into perspective, this kind of conflict is worth sharing as:

a. It ranks very high in the number of advisory interventions I have had in the past decade.

b. The problems, though complex, are predictable and can be resolved.

c. The protagonists are emotional and defensive and can’t seem to find a middle ground.

d. The complex dynamic of fathers and sons (siblings) is as old as the world.

e. The survival of the enterprise and the unity of the family are at stake.

A story of conflict

Jonathan (not his real name) is a next generation appointed successor, having worked under the tutelage of his father for 19 years in a family-owned trading company.

The business was founded by his father through sheer hard luck.

Jonathan was fortunate to have worked for three years outside the family business right after graduating from a university and if he had his way, he would have wanted to stay longer as a professional. But a call from his father one afternoon changed everything.

He considers joining the family business as his ultimate sacrifice after he ended what would have been a flourishing career as a sales manager of a prestigious business organization.

Fast forward 20 years

At 45 and married with two kids, Jonathan will be celebrating his 20th year next year working for the family business. To borrow a quote from him…

“For many years, I have learned to accept and manage papa’s continuing interference on the way I run the operations, as well as the direction of the business. But in the last two years since papa officially announced his retirement, the arguments have become more frequent and has resulted in unending squabbles. I hate to admit it but sometimes our discussions turn ugly and I feel guilty just thinking about it. Is there a way out of this Prof.?”

Not a week has passed where father and son always end up disagreeing on operational decisions. What originally appeared to be a seamless handover of the enterprise to the next generation has become a difficult one and on the verge of a breakup.

Apart from the heated discussions, profits have generally been flat and employee attrition rate has been registering higher than industry rate since the son assumed the role of CEO.

To be continued.


Prof. Soriano is a National Agora Awardee for Marketing Excellence, an ASEAN Family Business Advisor, Book Author and Executive Director of ASEAN-based Consulting group, W+B Strategic Advisory. He is also an International Business Lecturer and Professor at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business.
He is the author of two bestselling books related to Family Business Governance and Succession.
Those interested to order can call the W+B Group 09228603186 and look for Ms. Aira.

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