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THE LEN LESSER REPORT  

THE LEN LESSER REPORT

 

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A TRUE TALE OF FAMILY DYNASTIES

Sam Bronfman the founder of Seagramís spoke of the demise of family businesses predicting "from shirt sleeve to shirtless the wealth gained in the first generation will be lost in the third generation." His grandson, Edgar Jr., fulfilled the dire prediction by losing Seagramís shortly after becoming CEO.

In Dorchester we have a successful family dynasty, the Wilsie family, who are the third generation leading Lind Lumber. Andy Wilsie along with Jim Lind co-founded the company and Andy passed the leadership reigns to his son John Wilsie. He has now intrusted the management of the company to his three sons, Chris, Jeff & David while he spends his winters in Florida acting as an advisor to his three sons when asked.

Those of you who surmise that oneís wealth and prestige are the essence of happiness will find out that you are often times mistaken. In New Brunswick we have the Irvingís who are the third wealthiest family in Canada.

Kenneth Irving the heir to the throne of the empire assumed his rightful place to take on the role of the CEO of the company. Even as a little boy, the eldest of four siblings , Kenneth understood the path before him: the responsibility and harsh obligations of being an Irving.

It was a formal family one in which emotional indifference was viewed as a strength, handshakes replaced hugs and deference to elders was expected. Laughter and tears were replaced with a British stiff upper lip and advise to suck it up; not cry and be a man.

Problems, business and personal, if they were discussed at all stayed in the Irving fold. The family name brought a sense of privilege and respect but also obligations to conform. Arthur, who was the father of Ken, was the ultimate authority who demanded unquestioning obedience at home and at the office.

Families are complicated enough when the members make their own way in life; they are often conflicted when you have the son/daughter run a family business while the father has semi retired still overseeing the firm. Even after Arthur handed the reigns over to Kenneth he made random unannounced visits to the office micro-managing even very small matters of no consequence. Dad never ever got out of the way to let Kenneth run the family business.

Kenneth accomplishments were amazing, doubling the value of the company; he was well liked by his employees. He had ambitions to embrace positive change in technology . But, nothing he seemed to do was quite good-enough for his father and rather then argue he reluctantly acquiesced to his fatherís unreasonable demands.

You do not have to be a psychiatrist to know that Kenneth was conflicted; feeling he did not quite measure up to his fatherís perfectionist perceptions of a successful CEO . If you tell a person long enough and often enough that they are inferior, he/she will eventually accept the false image that you thrust upon them.

Not surprising Kenneth was eventually emotionally broken by the constant stress. He took out his rage on the one person he blamed for all his problems- himself. He tried in vain but was not able to please his father.

Kenneth never came back to the company and in due time the firm cut him a severance cheque that led to litigations by both father and son. Psychiatric hospital stays out of the country to avoid public scrutiny helped and in time Kenneth was on the road to recovery.

Arthur and Kenneth have never resolved their differences; business and family ties have been torn asunder. Kenneth feels that he is healed and happy. He, is the son, " who still misses his father wondering: what if?"

Arthur Irving is now 86. Any chance for meaningful reconciliation is running out of time.

The moral of the true story of the Irving empire is very sad. Arthur never ever wanted to give control over to his eldest son to run the company. Like Queen Elizabeth 11 who is 90 plus years of age she will not/can not stand aside to let Prince Charles assume the title of the King of England.

Len Lesser is an education/career counselor in Dorchester.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com