Businesses are no longer relying solely on internal employees to help relay the story. “Some also invite a variety of storytellers, authors and editors into the process to help create and curate their stories,” she said. This has the value-added benefit of collaboration and teamwork, cultivating new perspectives on the family business and its history while fostering new networks.
But, in Krueger’s experience, Next Gen leaders are further shaking up how family business histories are used and thought about. “[They] also tend to challenge the idea that history is only about the more distant past, from founding to the naming of the current leader or last significant product launch,” she said.
“Specifically, they see history being made today and recognize the story as an asset — as one that needs to be continued to be told. It is an ongoing opportunity and one with evergreen purpose, rather than a task done to mark a milestone anniversary.”
Surmounting the challenges of past practices
But what happens if, as the news recently reminded the world about adidas, the family business engaged in practices that would be considered unethical or problematic by 21st century standards?
Of the 76% of C-suite executives who understood their company had to confront this challenge, as per The History Factory study, just over a quarter of responders indicated that they felt well prepared to tackle and navigate those issues.
It’s an understandable concern, and one that Dr Sarah Federman, an expert on corporate atonement for historical transgressions, and an Associate Professor at the University of San Diego’s Kroc School of Peace Studies, encounters regularly.
“The older you are, the more skeletons you have, in part because the tenor of the times has shifted and what people expect has changed,” she said of family businesses and heritage brands alike.
But it is vital that organizations fully come to terms with and figure out how to address their pasts. Those that do not may have difficulty convincing the world, both internally and externally, that their ethos has shifted to better reflect current business standards and practices. “If you had kind of nefarious origins and you want to be something else, the leadership really needs to say that and then take actions and create that atmosphere in the organization,” Federman explained.