Beyond Inheritance: The Expectations and Burdens of Taking Over the Family Business

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Beyond Inheritance: The Expectations and Burdens of Taking Over the Family Business

Beyond Inheritance: The Expectations and Burdens of Taking Over the Family Business
  26 November, 2023   Dr. Preeti Adhav

In India, there is a wistful saying: “To be rich like Ambani.” This phrase encapsulates the widespread admiration and aspiration for success as well as wealth, akin to the Ambani family in India. The Ambanis, particularly Mukesh Ambani, have become synonymous with opulence, success, and influence. This saying reflects the pursuit of unparalleled success and affluence in a nation where socio-economic aspirations often intersect with business prowess.

Mukesh Ambani's name also carries significant individual recognition separate from that of Dhirubhai Ambani. His inheritance of Reliance Industries wasn't a mere transition. His father, Dhirubhai Ambani, had crafted a legacy synonymous with entrepreneurial genius, creating a thriving enterprise that had forever changed the Indian business landscape. While he had been tasked with significant responsibilities that’d mould the company, Mukesh and his brother Anil faced the dual challenge of honouring their roots while forging their own paths when they came to the throne.

Imagine stepping into the shoes of a visionary whose name has become synonymous with resilience, audacity, and business acumen. The weight of expectation must have been paralysing for the young heirs, and the urge to simply keep the company afloat must have been tempting. But Mukesh Ambani chose a different narrative. He didn't just aim for replication; he sought evolution. He expanded the horizon, venturing into unexplored sectors, embracing technological advancements, and pioneering ventures, thus proving that the sky is indeed the limit. His journey wasn't about replicating the past but going beyond what was deemed possible. This approach marked the transition from simply inheriting a legacy to creating a legacy that propelled Reliance to new heights while keeping in touch with its history.

Inheriting a family business isn't merely a transfer of assets and responsibilities; it’s the inheritance of a legacy, reputation, and expectations. One might think being born into wealth and influence is akin to winning the lottery but the lives of successors are not as easy as they might appear. Sure, you will have a wealth of resources at your disposal, but it also comes with the expectation of sacrificing personal aspirations to preserve the family enterprise. There's a palpable pressure to excel—to not just maintain but to exceed the successes of the preceding generation. The weight of this responsibility can be overwhelming, often leaving successors torn between honouring tradition and forging their own identities. The weight of familial expectations can create an internal conflict, forcing a choice between personal identity and the predetermined role within the business that’s thrust onto them.

This expectation to not just succeed but to surpass their predecessor can also suppress the inheritor’s true potential. It stifles creativity and limits the scope for individuality. Sometimes, this burden becomes so daunting that successors crumble completely, either abandoning the business or remaining attached to it but never reaching their full potential. The pressure to outshine is an intrinsic part of the journey. The bar is set high, and the stakes are higher. Every decision made by the successor is scrutinised, not just in the present but also in the context of the legacy they are expected to uphold.

A unique situation such as this calls for a delicate balance between internal and external expectations. Take a moment to reflect on whether this position that has been thrust upon you genuinely resonates with your desires and strengths. No one understands your inner motivations better than you do. If you feel a resounding 'yes,' then dig deeper: are you pursuing this path because it's your calling, or is it driven by the expectations of your family? There's a stark contrast between putting your heart into a deed fueled by your passion and feeling weighed down by the burden of others' expectations. However, as an heir, you will most likely not be afforded the choice between pursuing your interests and taking the helm of the family business. So you strike a balance—integrate your personal interests with the responsibilities bestowed upon you. There is not a lot you can do about the mounting pressure. Therefore, it's crucial to seek out support systems. Mentorship and hands-on experience can be invaluable in guiding you through these complex terrains, helping you stay true to yourself amidst the pressures. Once you have gotten used to the chair, you can chart your own path. Creating a distinct legacy while honouring the past is a tightrope walk, and it involves charting a course that respects the foundation but also adapts to changing times. It is a delicate balance of tradition and transformation, as exemplified by Mukesh Ambani.

When it comes to inheriting a small family business versus a sprawling conglomerate, the challenges differ significantly. While inheriting a small business might seem less daunting in scale, the emotional ties and the pressure to keep the legacy intact are equally substantial. On the other hand, inheriting a large corporation brings its own set of challenges, including managing complexities, ensuring continuity across diverse sectors, and navigating the expectations of shareholders, employees, and consumers. The advice is the same as before: trust that you have all the tools you need, have faith in yourself, and seek mentorship and practical experience. Heirs don’t just walk into the room and assume command. You have to work your way up, learning the ropes and gaining essential skills that you'll one day need to steer the company in the right direction.

The journey of inheriting a family business is a demanding one. It will ask of you a blend of reverence for tradition and the audacity to chart new territories. Mukesh Ambani's story serves as an inspiration—a testament to how navigating these challenges with resilience, innovation, and a visionary outlook can not only sustain but also elevate a family legacy to unprecedented heights. Ultimately, it’s about not just inheriting success but shaping it into a legacy that withstands the test of time.