You may have seen this quote from Crawford Hill, a member of the Bancroft family currently struggling with the decision whether to sell Dow Jones & Co. to Rupert Murdoch. Hill’s lengthy letter, containing this memorable phrase, was sent to his many relatives and printed on the Wall Street Journal website, www.wsj.com, on July 27. He says that the family has not been actively involved in running the family business in decades.
Despite the recent talk about “legacy”, says Hill, “Our real legacy was an inherited lack of awareness as to what it takes to nurture and pass on an effective legacy about what is really required to be responsible, engaged and active owners of a family business.” He says that “strong efforts to promote family dialogue” in the 1990’s “did not translate into a family wide acceptance of questioning, debate, tolerance of disagreement and strategic thinking — in short, the kinds of things that successful family owners have ultimately always had to figure out.”
In Hill’s view, for many years the business climate for Dow Jones, management decisions, and board decisions were enough to ensure the success of the company — whether or not the family took an active role as owners and directors. But over time, conditions changed and the family ownership structure did not change effectively to deal with new realities. Thus, he says, the Bancrofts are “actually now paying the price of our passivity over the past 25 years.”
Hill is quite frank about how past efforts by some in the family to deal with difficult issues were seen as “unacceptable by most in the family” and “heretical by more than a few.” Perhaps dealing with internal conflicts as they arose in a measured and careful fashion could have avoided the rancor, public sniping, and risk presented now.