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In the Blood: Battles to Succeed in Canada’s Family Businesses

by Gordon Pitts

Tolstoy’s chestnut about families – that all happy ones resemble each other, while each unhappy one is unique – is arguably even more accurate when applied to the bloody fights that can afflict family businesses. These internecine feuds and rivalries often resemble the plotline of a Shakespearean tragedy. But is the plight of the family business a serious concern? Does it really matter that the Eaton family ran their company into the ground, or that the McCains are not on speaking terms?

Globe and Mail reporter Gordon Pitts thinks so. Pitts is an extremely able writer who shows in his latest book, In the Blood, that the success of family businesses is important to the public interest, since 65% to 80% of the world’s firms are controlled by families. One survey discovered that in Canada during 1999, family businesses employed 4.7 million full-time workers and earned estimated revenues of more than $1.3-trillion.

Pitts profiles more than 20 family-run companies across Canada for In the Blood. The result is a well-researched, fascinating look behind the scenes of such corporate clans as the Molsons, the Batas, and the Cuddys – suppliers of chicken to McDonald’s – among others. Pitts covers new ground here, and doesn’t just rehash the old stories everyone knows. And while most subjects were co-operative from the start, Pitts has the knack of bringing out confidences. As with all riveting business books, people – and their ambitions, jealousies, and disagreements – form the focus, rather than dry-as-dust bottom lines and figures.

In the Blood is more than a reporter’s view, though. While much of the book is structured as a series of profiles, the final three chapters offer a prognosis for the future of family companies in today’s new economy. Pitts remains optimistic, but stresses that family-run firms must maintain competitive advantage through a combination of innovation, sacrifice, and fresh commitment on the part of each new generation. In the Blood is a must-read for anyone concerned about business today.