One cannot help feeling a little sceptical of the recent publication, Quarter-life Crisis (Bloomsbury, 2001), by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner. Subtitled 'the unique challenges of life in your twenties', it sets out to show that today young people "work too hard, earn too much and play too fast". This may be true if you're a feckless heir, or an overpaid financial trader, but it hardly represents the mass.
According to the authors, the difficulty arises when twenty-somethings are ejected from the structured academic environment and forced to choose a career, find a home, carve out social niches and manage their own money. This period can indeed be rocky, especially when a young person is told that the world is his or her oyster and then can't find a satisfying job.
The book is, however, a bit longwinded. As one reviewer remarked: "I'm 28. If everyone in our age group is this pathetic, clueless and without direction, God help us in another 20 years. Get a grip!"
Several Families in Business readers have made their own suggestions for worthy reading. Jo McGowran, a management development expert specialising in the family business sector, recommends Mindstore for Personal Development, by the Scottish positive thinking guru Jack Black (HarperCollins, 1996).
"Most of my friends in the family business world – both owners and their advisors – are passionate about the work of Jack Black, "says Jo. "They attend his workshops, read his books, and have enthusiastically encouraged me to take the plunge. "
Jo finally picked up a copy of Mindstore for Personal Development while browsing in a bookstore in Jack Black's home city of Glasgow. She was attracted by its bright, positive appearance, took it home, and read it in a single evening.
"The book is accessible, to the point, practical and amusing, " says Jo. She describes Black's book as a "veritable whirlwind tour"offering advice on how people should learn to relax and rid themselves of others'negativity.
On the strength of the book's content Jo has decided to attend one of Jack Black's workshops. "There are many self-help books on the market, but this is one of the best I have come across, "she adds.
Another of our reviewers, Geoffrey Dovey, Chairman of the family food and drink company DPP based in Dorset, UK, pursued the theme of leadership in his choice of book recommendation.
Arc of Ambition, by James Champy and Nitin Nohria (John Wiley & Sons, 2001), cites the experiences of globally-renowned leaders as diverse as the Duke of Wellington, Nelson Mandela and the industrialist, Andrew Carnegie.
"For me this book shows the importance of persistence and perseverance, coupled with a clear vision to lead you through difficult times, " remarks Geoffrey, whose business is now managed by its family's second generation.
"The authors show how the journey towards business success is often made in gradual, ascending steps. You must also be aware, and prepared, for any opportunities that may surface – however subtle. The authors make it clear that leaders must have a sense of optimism, drive and a clear sense of values"he adds.
"As a member of a family business I found this book both instructive and inspirational and a very interesting read for entrepreneurs. "
Duncan McLean, head of JA & OM Tait and Company (manufacturers of the Ola Gorie jewellery range) remains fascinated by the story of Henry Ford and his heirs in the US car industry. The Fords: An American Epic by Peter Collier and David Horowitz (Summit Books, 1987) was first published more than a decade ago but is still captive reading.
As Duncan points out, the Ford story really is an epic, ranging across a century of modern history. But he believes it contains the essence of every family business story. "The entrepreneur who becomes the almost mythical foundingfather figure, the over-shadowed son and heir; the rivalry between family and non-family leaders, and the long shadow that business success so often casts on private life, "reflects Duncan, "All of these familiar tropes are present. But what makes the Ford story so gripping and instructive is the sheer scale of the age-old motifs. "
The authors describe how, even in his declining years, Henry Ford had "never really taken the time to think about his emotional life". Although the Ford story includes many positive angles to running a family business there were also the negative angles, including Henry's mistreatment of his son, Edsel, and the company's early brutality towards anyone who stood in its path – including its own employees.
"The story is as gripping as any novel. The Ford family suffered enormously to bring this story to us. We are lucky in that we can both thrill to read about their struggles and also learn from their mistakes in our much more modest battles with life and the family business, "reflects Duncan. He strongly recommends this book.
Jack Tait, CEO of UK family business Craftprint, tells Families in Businessthat he and his family were introduced to one particularly influential book while considering their own company's succession plan. Succeeding Generations (Harvard Business School Press, 1999), is authored by Ivan Lansberg, who has a Latin American family business background himself. The book draws upon his experience as a specialist family business consultant.
"It was obviously written from his own lifetime's experiences of working with all shapes and sizes of family business, sharing their problems and understanding their anxieties, "says Jack. "It is a must for anyone setting out on the road to succession. "