I was at a conference attended by HR professionals where I was asked a question on the silver spoon kids, and how should professionals, working in family run businesses, deal with them.
The term “silver spoon kids” refers to, usually in a derogatory manner, the next-gen kids in the business families who are aspiring to join the family business, usually at higher positions than the normal inductees, and land up in higher positions, based more on their birth, rather than merit. There are exceptions, but even in those cases, there are those who believe these kids had an easy life.
The common perceptions usually are, that these kids lead an easy and cushy life, are well provided for all their needs, which ensures that they lead a life of entitlement and privileges. Their entire life is planned for them without any accountability or responsibilities. And when they have got all their attempts at various projects wrapped up in failures, they come and join the family businesses, to occupy the throne, shooting instructions to various professionals who had earlier been running the show.
It is these beliefs that some people harbour, evident in my discussions with a few people on the side-lines of the conference.
I can imagine that the perceptions may have been based on observations or maybe shared experiences of a few people, but I would like to offer a different perspective.
This perspective is not an academic proposition, but more based on my observations and experience, having been in my own family business for over 30 years, seeing the experiences of various family members in my Marwari/Bania family background, working with various families as an advisor, and with hearing the experiences of some of the 1000plus odd with the next generation participants in both, the SPJIMR Family Business Program and Owners Management Program.
Let us address these perceptions.
The impression is that the next-gen from business families are not very academically bright, and they are often given access to the best schools’ due to the family connections and reputations.
This is true to some extent that the next-gen in business families do get the benefit of the best education, and are the beneficiaries of the family contacts and networks. But this is natural, for any family to desire for their offspring. Additionally, the doors do open in most places due to these networks, but often, it should be remembered that the performance of the individual determines their final success, where the family name usually may not help. The individual must fend for himself. (Otherwise the credibility of the institution can become jeopardised, which no institution would want, given the constant pressure on educational institutions to improve their rankings and hence their efforts make standards even tougher)
Similarly, it is appropriate for students to be placed amidst other students with similar levels, where students can aspire to achieve more, (Growth mindsets vs fixed mindsets) and that top performing students even from low rated schools do achieve a lot more.
Hence, putting an average next-gen business family scion amongst super-achievers in a top-ranking school could have detrimental effect on the self-confidence of the individual. This could cause huge implications for their development and self-confidence over the longer term. I have seen complexes develop in the next-gen, as they are forced to attend schools following the tradition of the others before in the family, who attended these same schools, or in line with the expectations of the family, without any regard to their desires or capabilities. This puts a lot of pressure on them.
On the other hand, the next-gen must follow the expectations of the family and society into areas which are pre-decided for them. Decisions made for them, in which they had no influence or control. And they are told that they are required to follow these, in line with the family expectations and their duty to the family. This also becomes a huge source of stress, as they cannot imagine going against the wishes of the family or displeasing anyone. This usually means, sacrificing their own desires or talents. In fact, I have seen fathers decide the entire education plans for the kids as soon as they are born! Taking over the family business is a foregone conclusion, and the next-gen is discouraged from even exploring any other option.
Then there is also the issue when the family ensures that the next-gen remain dependent on the family and family wealth, so that the family can then exercise control over them. When the next-gen get married, which there is enough family pressure to do so, and even have kids, then the flexibility of the next-gen to seek opportunities outside the family shrinks, ensuring the complete dependency on the family wealth. This coupled with the drilling down of the sense of responsibility to the family, ensures a mix of guilt and dependency amongst the next-gen, which locks them to the family business.
The Tyranny of legacy
This is one of the biggest burdens that the next-gen have, but are not able to express. The family has constantly expressed that the next-gen is expected to take over the family business, and has been crowned as the heir right after his birth. This is constantly reminded by the father, with statements like “Someday all this will be yours” or “When you run the business, you can...” This acts as subtle messaging and building up expectations on both sides. However, this is not something that the next gen may want to be a part of, and the fear of discussing this with the father, causes huge emotional challenges both for the next-gen and their fathers.
There are desires for people to break free from the family obligation, which they are unable to accept as an option. There are many cases of rebels in families who have managed to overcome the odds and choose to separate out and strike their own path. There are others, who may not be able to do so, for numerous reasons. I have worked with many sons who, during our discussions, break down into tears while discussing their family stories, and express anguish at their dilemma, wishing that they had not been born in the family to escape the pressure of the obligations.
High Bar for expectations being set
This is another serious issue arising in business families. The next gen is compared to the original founder member, and all efforts of the next gen to improve, are cast aside, with the statement, that this is not as good as the founder-father. This can be seen in professional services, doctors, actors, and even politics, besides businesses. This causes stress in the next-gen to professionalise in the same line as the father, and then, to ensure that they beat the expectations based on their father’s performance.
The pressure is huge, on the superstar kids, especially in the field of Films, music, and even politics, besides business? Let us not even try to talk about Doctors, lawyers, and so on. I was working with a very famous patriarch whose son could not match the skills of the father-founder, and the father did not realise this issue, which aggravated the relationship between the father and son, before it was resolved amicably. In business families, there is the pressure of performing well, in the family company, as there are the family members, who are judging your capabilities and competencies and quick to write you off, on your first mistake. Whereas the non-family member may have been given a second chance.
Additionally, the concept of arranged marriages or having your entire life planned for you, may pose a loss of self-control for the next gen who may not be able to break out of the situation that they may find themselves in.
I have found that the next-gen are street smart, even if, not necessarily academically smart, and this takes some getting used to. While their academic performance may not be ranked amongst the highest, they usually make up in their holistic approach and common-sense approach which is typical of entrepreneurs. I often find them able to calculate mentally, what it would take others to reach out for calculators or spreadsheets. This could be due to their exposure to business concepts from a very young age.
But this notwithstanding, the other factors mentioned above, state that the next generation is under immense pressure, and constant gaze, which leads them to more deserving of respect, as there are fighting battles which the others may not be even aware of.