I had an a-ha! moment in Chicago after attending a workshop on family-owned businesses at the ASBDC conference. Family-owned businesses are often dysfunctional, because the role in the family is not made distinct from the role in the family-owned business. The instructor used the example of the business owned by dad and/or mom with the children/employees expected to come to Sunday dinner every week, where the conversation would inevitably devolve into talking shop. The people providing the jobs and the people providing the meal are exactly the same, so the family dynamic interferes with the business dynamic, and disaster often follows.
It occurred to me that two of my favorite TV shows involve family-owned businesses, and the dysfunction that it brings, both on ABC: Brothers & Sisters and Dirty Sexy Money. The former is about a guy who owns a produce business; he dies in the first episode, and the succession plan doesn’t always go as he planned, with his elder daughter in charge, much to the resentment of at least one of his sons and his brother-in-law. In DSM, the protagonist tries and fails to stay out of the family businss that his late father worked in but gets sucked into the bizarre family/business dynamic.
One conversation that was taking place at the conference was whether Bill Clinton, supposedly insightful politician, regardless of your political view of him, intentionally sabotaged his wife’s campaign for President, One woman said, “How could he not have?” Here’s my theory; there is this company called Billary. Going back to the late 1970s, its mission was to elect Bill Clinton governor of Arkansas, then later, POTUS. So, by necessity, Bill was CEO of Billary, Inc.
Then it was Hillary’s turn to run things. Except that Bill was used to being the CEO of Billary. Heck, he was used to being “leader of the free world”. So while he may have really tried to cede authority to her, the old business dynamic, mixed with their…complicated family dynamic, got in the way. In an ABC interview in August, Bill Clinton said as much, responding to attacks on his wife as a husband, rather than as a surrogate for the candidate.
In many situations, such as when a new department head is chosen at a university, what the former chair does affects the outcome. When the retired one sticks around in some emeritus status, some of the staff will continue to him or her. Whereas when the older one slips quietly into the sunset, that issue doesn’t arise.
So, I’m convinced that Billary didn’t work in its quest to nominate Hillary as President because it was a dysfunctional business. Moreover, I think Barack Obama did not choose Hillary to be his running mate because he did not want to be tied down to that broken dynamic.
Top photo (c) 2008 by Mary Hoffman