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Thoughts from a Second Generation Lear

Being the junior or the “III” in a family-owned business means one thing: You were lucky.

Sure, were Henry Ford II (the third Ford to run the eponymously named company) and Thomas Watson, Jr.—especially Watson Jr.—brilliant and innovative executives? Absolutely. Would each have gotten the job but for his last name? Probably not. But despite being members of a lucky gene club, each made Ford and IBM bigger and better. How much bigger and how better is debatable, especially for Ford, but that each improved his family company is undeniable.

And that’s all that should be expected of next generation owners of a family company. They can never truly earn their stripes; the wisp of nepotism will always follow them. And it should. After all, they are in the place they are because they were born on third. But it doesn’t have it be their legacy—the company can be. The best fortunate sons and daughters know they are where they are because of their last name, and instead of resenting it, or pulling the ladder up behind them, or going out of their way to deserve it to the point they come off as try-hards, as the kids say today, they just channel Gandalf and do what there is to be done with the company given them.

It may not be better to be lucky than good. But it is lucky, and luck is good. So, if you are a lucky family business member, make the most of it. That’s what we try to do.