Jesus and family businesses

/ 12:11 AM December 25, 2015

ON THIS holy day, let us emulate Jesus, the successor to two family businesses: his earthly father Joseph’s trade as a craftsman and, ultimately, his Heavenly Father’s mission of salvation and redemption.

Joseph is popularly portrayed as a carpenter, but the Greek word tekton means more of a craftsman, who works with wood, stone and metal.


During these hidden years, as Joseph patiently trained his son in the family trade, Jesus became an apprentice, creating pieces of such good quality that the family reputation as skilled craftsmen spread to surrounding villages.

“Work,” says Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer), “was the daily expression of love in the life of the Family of Nazareth.”


In family businesses, love means elders develop patience and care in honing the mindset, attitudes, skills of the younger generation to do honest and excellent work. Love does not mean spoiling the young, overlooking shoddy work ethics just because they are the COO (children of owner).

For the young ones, love means having the humility to respect the elders’ guidance, and painstakingly refining their own abilities, to be worthy to take the helm of the business in the future. Love does not mean having a sense of entitlement to privilege or wealth, squandering the legacy of the founders.


Statistics show that most family businesses do not survive three generations. Those that thrive provide essential services and excellent products, well-thought-out and lovingly made, respected by competitors and trusted by customers.

In the quintessential family business of all, Jesus is the model of humility and obedience to the Heavenly Father. He also underwent training, as evidenced by His constant prayers to the Father.

Jesus prayed for direction, at the start, during His baptism. He prayed for strength, in the desert, while facing temptations. He prayed for counsel, countless times, during His preaching and ministry. He prayed for succor, in the garden and on the cross, while battling fear and travails.

He prayed, giving glory to God at His resurrection, and summoning the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.


Family businesses sometimes fail because founders do not have the foresight to train successors early.   But they need to prepare for the long-term.

Jesus trained His successors from the start of His ministry. (Interestingly, the first four apostles were working in family businesses when they heeded Jesus’s call: The brothers Peter and Andrew were fishermen, as were the brothers James and John).

Through words and deeds, through parables and miracles, through His presence and companionship, Jesus prepared the disciples for the mission.   Jesus eventually succeeded, and the healing and saving acts of His disciples are thereafter chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles. That the Catholic Church is flourishing today, millennia after Christ, is testament enough.


But training for succession is never easy, not even for Jesus. The Gospels as training manuals describe instances when Jesus was not happy with the progress of His proteges. James and John jostled for seats beside Him, earning the ire of the other apostles, who did not understand that following the Lord means sacrifice and not power.

This situation is mirrored in many family businesses, where the next generation battle each other for supremacy, causing irreparable harm, heedless of what leadership truly entails.

Even Peter had several shortcomings. He wanted to follow Jesus by walking on water, but his fears led Jesus to point out his “little faith.” When Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, he earned Jesus’ praise; but when he could not accept that Jesus had to suffer and die, he received the rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” During Christ’s passion, Peter denied Him not once, not twice, but three times.

Successors in family businesses make mistakes, sometimes costly ones. But just as Jesus never gave up on guiding Peter and the other disciples, elders should not stop shepherding the next generation, recognizing the good, but also correcting the false, with love and not with cruelty.

Founders sometimes hesitate to choose a successor. They love all their children, and they do not want to alienate anyone. But succession planning is essential, and cannot be done by pure emotion alone.

Jesus loved all the disciples. In fact, He might even have (emotionally) cared for John the Beloved the most.   But having assessed the apostles’ strengths and weaknesses, Jesus finally anointed Peter as His successor, the Rock upon which to build His Church. Through discernment and wisdom, Jesus chose the one who, though fallible, would have the most courage, strength, and faith to lead.

Lord Jesus, may You grant the elders in family businesses the faith that honest work is an expression of love, the patience to mold the next generation, and the wisdom to prepare for succession. May You also imbue in the younger ones the dedication to master their craft, the humility to learn from their mistakes, and the courage to act always for the good and the true.

Next Friday: New Year resolutions for family businesses

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail [email protected]) Email the author at [email protected]

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