I recently participated in a conference recognizing and celebrating 100-year-old family businesses. Their celebrated feat was sustaining family ownership of a business for at least one century.
Was this a celebration of anomalies or curiosities? Was this assemblage of century-old firms a collection of antiques? I think not because I believe ownership matters. And I believe those who stay owners of a business for a century or more provide important, powerful lessons not only for other family businesses but also for the entire economy, culture and society. And I fear the lessons, wisdom and knowledge embodied by these institutions are in danger of being thoughtlessly lost in a business culture preoccupied with speed, paper wealth and virtual reality.
In the public company environment, often presented by educational institutions and media as the business "norm," ownership has evolved into a true legal fiction, an abstraction existing primarily in the minds of tort lawyers who purport to protect anonymous shareholders from the misfeasance and malfeasance of directors and executives who often play cynical games.