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
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...
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