Sibling rivalries have the potential to pull families apart, causing irreparable damage to family-owned businesses. Literature asserts that Cain and Abel are the first casualties of the phenomenon, but history abounds with others. From Richard the Lion Heart and his scheming younger brother Prince John in 1183 to Mukesh and Anil Ambani’s 21st-century feud over Reliance Industries, no family is immune.
Catastrophic dysfunction is only one possible outcome, however. The problems that define some sibling relationships are replaced by consummate functionality in others – family businesses where siblings work alongside each other as perfect collaborators. The differentiating factors between these two scenarios and everything in between are as complex, deep and longstanding as sibling relationships themselves. Understanding these aspects requires understanding how siblings work.
We interviewed four experts to make sense of sibling rivalry:
According to Edwin Hoover, psychologist and business consultant, healthy family dynamics are not always intentional or easy; they require work. Individual family members must develop their relationship intelligence, so they are better equipped to deal with potentially divisive situations. To ensure the stability of their collaboration, and thus the sustainability of the family business, adjusting their priorities to put the needs of their relationship first is a critical task.
As a clinical therapist who works with siblings in a family business context, Dean R Fowler sees the best and worst of fraternity. Most commonly, the disputes he mediates involve a contested estate plan, but the terms are never rational; deeper emotional issues are at play. Helping these contestants identify and realise a mutually beneficial solution gives Fowler a unique perspective on succession – one where communication is the utmost priority.
Angela Civitella and her brother suddenly found themselves in a position of shared family business leadership under the worst possible circumstances – the unexpected death of the founder, their father. Soon, their differences and divergent managerial styles stoked a latent sibling rivalry into painful family conflict. Eventually, the siblings resolved their dispute, but not before it threatened the sustainability of their family business. Intent on using her lived experiences as a tool to help others overcome their differences, Angela founded Intinde, an international business coaching firm.
Governance consultant, coach, author and educator Enrique M. Soriano grew up in an environment where his mother’s feud with her half-siblings led to a family schism that persisted for more than three decades. The parallels he saw in the corporate world led to a fascination with sibling dynamics and a career in helping business families maintain the health of the relationships they are founded upon. Clear communication, robust governance and a comprehensive work plan are the waypoints to copacetic future for siblings in conflict.