Recently our Rector Ross Terranova delivered an excellent talk – one of a series called ‘On Giants Shoulders’. The person he spoke about was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was martyred at the end of WWII by personal order of Hitler. During his brief life (40 years) he saw what was coming as early as 1933 and made it his mission to stand up for the true meaning of the Christian faith against a backdrop of the new order of Christianity preached by the Nazi Party, as it gained momentum.
The talk was riveting. The series was inspired by the ignorance of the history that recounts the lives of brave people, who shaped our understanding and beliefs, and some who sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of truth. I’m always looking at how my own faith affects who I am, and in business what I value, and how my faith informs many of my business decisions.
The legacy and teachings of Christianity are written in the Bible; for Muslims, it is the Quran, Buddhist teachings are recorded in the Tripitaka, Sikhs have their Vedas and Jews record their beliefs and philosophy in the Torah.
In my opinion, these are legacies that were left hundreds and thousands of years ago to the people, and for the benefit of the people in their various jurisdictions. These legacies have been handed down through the generations and are so strong, so believable and so valued. Each philosophy is written in a way that the teachings never vary through the centuries. We adhere to and celebrate all of the significant rituals and occasions without deviation. And importantly our faiths will survive and thrive for centuries to come.
We are in auspicious company here, but in our small way all of us running our family businesses are leaving a legacy, either by design or default; positive or negative. We think about a legacy as something that is left behind after the death of a leader. Yes money, property and assets are included, but there is more importance in leaving a larger legacy of that which matters to your family, employees, future generations and to the world.
What kind of legacy are you leaving to the world? As the owner and leader of your family business, you need to determine this or else it will be determined for you. To record your legacy during your lifetime is far better than to have it written after your death when your person, values and life are exposed and you become the subject of unhealthy, vitriolic untruths that will damage your memory and crush your family and friends.
Your legacy isn’t an event, it is your entire life’s journey; the sum of your experiences in the face of adversity; people who have supported and inspired you to have the courage to carry on and others that have enjoyed your success and felt the benefit of your leadership. Your legacy has a chronology that will be lost forever if not recorded. Your legacy is your blueprint for life.
So why is this so important? We know that first generation entrepreneurs start the business; that the second generation nurtures, builds and grows the business. But the third generation have no recollection or empathy for the sacrifices made by the founder. Life has always looked like this: nice home, good school, influential peer group and the trappings of a good life. It’s a new normal. Hence the propensity to failure.
The stats say that only 4% of family businesses survive the third generation and I believe it is partly because the purpose, values and experiences of the founder have been lost in translation. We are in danger of undervaluing our brand.
I am on a journey to seek out the stories, legacies and triumphs of our amazing family business community. I had the privilege of writing, creating and producing a documentary for one unusual, brave, passionate man who in the face of adversity as an immigrant, came to these shores in the 70’s and overcame everything to become the huge success he is today. He has what I call a ‘Living Legacy’ written together with his family, captains of industry, his employees, customers and those in government and of influence. His legacy contains familial tragedy, worldwide conflict, personal sacrifice, opportunity, context and capacity to make the world a better place. He has come from nothing to everything. His legacy is recorded so his grandchildren and future generations will have the benefit of understanding and appreciating what has been and what has true meaning.
The power of a living legacy will instill the values and purpose of the family business for generations to come. We are defined by our parentage and heritage. By knowing where we have come from guides our future thinking, purpose and plans for living. There is a richness and pride in knowing your legacy. It reinforces your beliefs in right and wrong; gives you the courage to do more and achieve more in your lifetime safe in the knowledge you will have your own legacy to hand down to the next generation.
When I produced Dr Rami Ranger CBE’s Living Legacy Documentary he was moved to tears. It took our combined efforts to write, storyboard and showcase the achievements of this ordinary humble man and his extraordinary journey and success.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
What will your legacy say?
· 25 years (one generation) after your death what will your family and the wider community and the world remember you for?
· What difference will you have made to people’s lives?
· How will your wealth change the lives of others less fortunate?
· Who will know the secrets to your success?
· Where will family be able to go, look, read about your life, purpose, achievements, values and hope for the future?
· What are your wishes for humanity?