Does DNA play a role in families and, therefore, in the family owned business?

Business Leader Post, November 13, 2013

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Regarding my October 31st column about the question of nurture versus nature, recent research has validated that our physiology is a function of a genetic disposition. The best example that applies to family owned businesses is the presence of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). While I have not done formal research, both conversations with medical professionals and my own anecdotal evidence suggest that there is a higher than normal representation of ADD in family owned businesses.

People with ADD have a very difficult time functioning in traditional structures. Consequently, they either leave voluntarily or get fired and form their own businesses in which they can apply their own creativity and ingenuity, developed over the years as coping mechanisms, to the development of their products, their operations and their marketing endeavors. Frequently, as a function of their individual needs and skills not having been recognized or respected in the world, they have a developed a sensitivity to others. This sensitivity translates into an awareness of the importance of relationships when doing business, which in turn enhances the opportunity for success.

The problem for family owned businesses arises when the next generation inherits ADD and becomes absorbed into the family business because it’s difficult for them to adjust/perform in traditional systems. In the same way that their parents may have struggled due to ADD, they frequently bring their inability to adjust and perform into the structure of the family owned business. However, because they are not confronted with the same degree of performance demands as their parents were in a traditional business, they are not fired; or out of a sense of loyalty to the family, the business and/or the life style, they do not leave. Consequently, they are not faced with the same demands as the founder was; and they are not required by the need to survive to stretch themselves and discover their true abilities.

The best way to address that dilemma is to put that next generation in charge of an area or a series of projects without interference and to evaluate them not on their methods, but whether they got the job done