Shakespeare on passion, grit
Family businesses that succeed are often led by founders who are passionately in love with what they are doing. They do not count the hours; some do not even take a salary. Business for them is play. When forced to retire, many founders pass away prematurely.
Egyptian queen Cleopatra’s lover Mark Antony is a Roman general, and in Shakespeare’s play “Antony and Cleopatra,” he motivates a soldier to battle with these words:
“To business that we love we rise betime / And go to ’t with delight.”
This soldier replies that even at sunrise, more than a thousand of them, all proudly military, will already be prepared for battle.
Founders need to be exemplary role models and expose their children to the intricacies of the business early on. This way, they will love the enterprise as much as their parents do and they can cope better when problems arise.
Successors who do not truly love what they do will not succeed.
In the play “The Taming of the Shrew,” the wise servant Tranio counsels his young master Lucentio to study what he loves:
“No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en.”
Take calculated risks
In the play “Julius Caesar,” Roman generals Brutus and Cassius (after killing Caesar) discuss whether to go out and meet the enemy forces of Mark Antony and Octavian. Cassius wants to wait and see, but Brutus urges him on, saying that the time is ripe.
Famously, Brutus says: “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries / On such a full sea are we now afloat / And we must take the current when it serves / Or lose our ventures.”
For ships to dock near shore or leave port, they need a high tide, which is controlled by nature, not man. Just as these ships must ride the tide when it comes, or else waste the opportunity, family businesses need to take calculated risks.
Many family businesses are conservative, preferring to do things the way they have been done in the past, fearful that novel undertakings would fail.
But when the chance presents itself, they need to diversify into new ventures, invest in innovations such as IT, or reinvent themselves the way most of the top companies have done.
The Zobel family is now in its seventh generation of family business leadership.
“Part of the secret of our longevity as an institution,” Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala tells Philippine Tatler in April 2015, “has been a focus on reinventing ourselves over time. We always take a long, hard look at ourselves and stay relevant by turning Ayala into a company that continues to evolve and adjust to changing times.”
But seizing the day does not mean taking foolish risks.
Ironically, though Brutus makes a lot of sense, he ultimately fails. Julius Caesar appears to him in a dream to warn of defeat, but he refuses to change plans. Brutus and Cassius attack the enemy, and fail. Octavian eventually becomes Augustus Caesar, the next emperor of Rome.
Plan for the long term
Unlike her timid husband the English King, Henry VI, Queen Margaret is a bastion of strength. When the lords in her court bewail their troubles in endless battles, she counsels them to have courage and vision:
“Great lords, wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss / But cheerly seek how to redress their harms…/ Why, courage then! what cannot be avoided / ’Twere childish weakness to lament or fear.”
The best family businesses plan for the long term while preparing themselves to deal courageously with unforeseen inflation or political turmoil.
Patience is key. In the play “Othello,” it is the villain Iago who advises the impatient Roderigo not to act rashly:
“How poor are they that have not patience! / What wound did ever heal but by degrees? / Thou know’st we work by wit, and not by witchcraft; / And wit depends on dilatory time.”
But Roderigo rushes to Venice in pursuit of Desdemona, and a tragedy unfolds. Iago weaves his schemes with cunning and patience, before he himself is killed by Othello.
(Next week: Shakespeare on money)
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