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An Unlikely Heroine: Family Members Can Offer Transition Leadership

She was of a generation whose women were not seen as potential leaders in the business. She played out her role of motherhood and community service--raising a bunch of children, heading PTA and school board, and then running a museum. Had "Margaret" been a boy, her cousins often mused, she'd have headed the family's business.

Their business was old and large. Late in its third generation with scores of family stockholders and a brace of kinsmen in the business, crisis loomed. Succession had become fractious, direction unclear, consensus not achievable. Many family members were asked: who in this family is trusted to put the collective interest first, whose judgment is sound, whose thinking is clear? And the same answer came back again and again . . . "Margaret."

She had been called on before in times of difficulty. She'd sat on the board and headed committees - -including a succession committee many years before that had selected a brother-in-law over a brother for a key leadership position.

And now, her family was calling her again. Near retirement age, she and her husband were looking forward to leisure and travel. But family and company called. Put off retirement. Plunge into tasks of restructuring a board and family council. Help to create the circumstances required to carry out a credible succession process in the intermediate future. Use your recognized storehouse of experience, character and good sense to see us through what might otherwise destroy our family business.

When crisis requires new leadership, it can arise anywhere in the family business system. Consider all available resources when seeking solutions. On many occasions, we've seen women not employed in this business but otherwise clearly leaders, step into a vacuum and play a crucial role. They sometimes muse that life and custom restricted their leadership in the past--and some comment that the problems they're now asked to deal with might have never arisen had they been allowed to aspire to business leadership in the first place.

But like Margaret, they can rise to the occasion, and at great personal sacrifice, build the needed bridges over which the family business can reach its future. Margaret was not business founder or builder. She will never serve as CEO or chairman. Still, she is yet "another kind of hero" who will live in her family's lore forever.

 

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