Soriano: Fighting for the throne: A father and son conflict (part 2)

Prof. Enrique M. Soriano

FOR almost 20 years, Jonathan devoted practically all of his waking hours working for the family business.

But the last two years was different and the wife knew that the cause of her husband’s sudden change in behavior toward his family and friends was a result of the tension building between Jonathan and his father.

With pressure from work and the frequent skirmishes with his father aggravated by declining revenues, Jonathan was now in a situation where he had to make a difficult decision.

For several weeks, the thought of leaving the business for good entered his mind. After seeking advice from friends, he listed several options:

a. Resign and look for work elsewhere or put up his own business. 

b. Initiate discussions with his younger sibling to take over the day-to-day function.

c. Use Option B and request that he be given a non-executive function.

d. Take a long vacation with the family and think things clearly.

e. Confront his father and tell him not to intervene anymore.

f. Request for early retirement upon reaching his 20th year, several months away.

g. Advance his share of the business.

He also thought long and hard that the option to resign would certainly spark more discussions and worsen their already strained relationship.

He also thought long and hard that the option to resign would certainly spark more discussions and worsen the already strained relationship with his father.

Reflecting on the story of Jonathan makes you conclude that the patriarchal shadow never really left the scene even if the father officially signified his intention to step back and let his son run the business.

But why did the father come back? Was it due to some major decisions made by his son that triggered his “return”? 

I have outlined a list of possible “triggers” that may have caused the father to reclaim power.

- Father has worked all his life so leaving a position of power is like dying a little.

- He is experiencing a personal loss of identity and the fear of losing significant work activity compels him to interfere.

- Jealousy towards the son or his lack of confidence in Jonathan.

- Father’s interference could also be due to the perceived “lackadaisical” attitude of Jonathan towards work. He thinks the son lacks the drive to run the business. 

- Jonathan’s penchant for reporting for work at 10 a.m. goes against the grain of the father’s unblemished record of going to the office at 7 in the morning without fail. 

- The business has registered flat growth since Jonathan assumed the leadership role, prompting the father to set aside retirement.

- Some employees that used to report directly to the father have resigned, citing their difficulty in adjusting to Jonathan’s style of management. 

Complex and dynamic relationship

- Why the father’s inaction and reclaiming control or power may work against the successful transition

- Father consciously facilitates son’s entry but subconsciously needs to be stronger than his son.

- Son seeks increased responsibility and authority but finds that his father refuses to cede authority, or continues to call the shots from behind.

Acrimony

This father and son conflict is a natural event, but if left unresolved may lead to a slew of more predictable problems that can cause serious implications on the state of the enterprise.

Therefore, it is extremely important that a third-party advisor look deeper into the conflict before it further escalates. He must immediately clarify the roles of both father and son and make the family members realize that when mixing family and business, several overlaps will get in the way. These overlaps, especially the family component, if left unmanaged, tend to feed on each other. As the business matures, you can expect conflict and confusion.

Soriano is a National Agora Awardee for marketing excellence, ASEAN family business advisor, author, executive director of ASEAN-based consulting group W+B Strategic Advisory, international business lecturer, professor and former chair of the marketing cluster at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business.