Authors: Patricia Annino, Thomas Davidow and Cynthia Adams Harrison with Lisbeth Davidow.

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From where I write in Asia, the family business is a dominant form of business organisation. Often such businesses are based on the Chinese model: that is, they are pragmatic and opportunistic in considering new business ventures, they are controlled by one person (the founder) and, when it is time for succession, a new company will be spun off from the original so that the son (or daughter) can run a separate business without conflict with other family members.

Women may be included in the running of such businesses – Chinese people and Chinese-influenced societies tend to be more willing to judge people based on ability than gender than in many other parts of the world (Japan is an exception to this), although there is patriarchy and gender-exclusion nevertheless.

There is, also, no shortage of Dallas or Dynasty-style in-fighting over inheritances, power, influence and the approval of stern parents. The situation is slightly different in the western business environment, both because family ownership tends to have been diluted over the years and also because of an approach to governance and growth that is based on a different form of rationality.

However, the situation is similar in all cases in that it is difficult for outsiders to break into executive positions and it is even difficult for less well-regarded family members to achieve positions of influence (I always advise my students to stay away from other people’s family businesses as a long-term career path since, no matter how hard they work and how successful they may be, one day the boss’s no-good offspring will wander along and be promoted over their head). Perhaps inevitably, it is much more likely for women to fall into this category than men. For those people, this book has been written as a series of practical lessons and mini-case studies intended to provide advice that can be acted upon straight away to improve relationships.

This slim volume (just 150 small pages with plenty of white space) is divided into eight principal sections, each one devoted to the issues facing women in a particular relationship role – wife, mother, daughter, sister, stepmother, widow, sister-in-law and daughter-in-law. Each section identifies a few issues that a woman in that relationship might face with respect to a family business owned and run by one or more male relatives and provides some ideas for solutions.

For example, widows should not rely on a business to look after their financial interests, daughters can benefit from the more intense conflict that may take place between a father and son and a stepmother must be ready to deal with a grieving process that may take years to run through its various stages. In common with many self-help style books, people in circumstances that have been described in the text may find something useful to guide them or material which could be used as advice for others. People in different circumstances (and family relationships these days can become complex and multi-faceted) may find the advice simplistic and unhelpful.

In some ways, it depends on what other sources of advice are available to the person concerned – those who follow a philosophy of life or a religion might prefer to be guided by the precepts contained therein, for example, while others might prefer to organize business according to business school style principles. These approaches will probably contradict much of the advice given by the various authors here, which relies mostly on a social relationship and empathetic approach. 

The three authors pictured on the book’s rear cover (and the fourth one who perhaps did most of the work) appear to be very American high-achieving self-promoters. There is nothing wrong with this, of course but it might limit the appeal of the book to those in other cultures who do not aspire to be North American. However, they do appear to be well-qualified to write about their subject and they bring considerable experience to bear upon it.

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