I stared at the family portrait at an Italian restaurant at the ground floor of my office building. At the centre, there were the Matriarch and Patriarch who started it all. She ran the kitchen and he ran the shop floor. Next to them were their kids and grandkids. They were all smiling with pride. The family business was–and perhaps still is–a cornerstone of economies in many societies.
It is the old school, old world way of doing business. A family getting together and starting something. Sometimes a restaurant. Sometimes a clothing store. Sometimes a gelateria. If there was something, anything you were good at–you could rope your family in and build a business around it.
It brought us together, but it could also tear us apart.
The alternative to working in a family business was starting off as a trainee at a large corporation. You ceased to be a family and became a bunch of colleagues. You’d get to know someone at work and you’d probably never see them again after you leave. You’d get a fancy temporary title, have the chance to be a small moving part in a large enterprise–but really, if you were to vanish, you’d be easily replaced and no one would miss you.
Family businesses are different in that regard. A group of people tied together by their clan. They may branch off later on and go on separate pathways, but they are still tied together. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve lived through it. When you’ve been a part of laying down the first bricks, attending to the first customers, or even hustling in the marketplace.
Sometimes two clans would come together through marriage to form an alliance. They’d grow bigger and better together. When you are born in a world where family is intertwined with money, sex, business, children, marriage… it becomes a part of your blood.
And then you pass it on to someone else… where it continues to run in the blood.