I always wanted to be Italian. Maserati. Armani. Puccini. Gnocchi! If I were Italian, I would be surrounded by beauty, living a life of great sophistication, glamour and disdain for everyone who wasn’t as fabulous as me. And, of course, I would look like this:
But we can’t pick the genetic hand we’re dealt, just as we don’t get to sidle up to the heavenly counter and order up our ideal family the way we would a favorite sandwich. I’m going to bet that if we could, our Thanksgiving dinners would be a lot calmer (better looking and richer too). And my nose would be smaller.
Depending on your perspective you’re either blessed with, or stuck with, family. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, holidays, shared domiciles. The history is both biological and circumstantial. You can run, but can you really hide when you’re staring into your mother’s eyes and see your own reflected back?
At some point we all have to make peace with the fact that we are them. You are your parents’ child, different but the same. And if your family not only means business, but has a business that’s a tough choice – there are expectations that you will modernize but keep everything the same. You’ll follow directions but are being groomed to lead. The expectations come from your boss and your parent – how can you possibly achieve both when you’re being judged, evaluated and loved on multiple dimensions simultaneously?
This classic entrepreneurial dilemma is being played out in front of our eyes daily. The first family has a family business – The Trump Organization. It’s pretty clear what they do. According to Wikipedia:
The Trump Organization is an American privately owned international conglomerate based in Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan , New York City. It comprises the business ventures and investments of Donald Trump .The company was founded in 1923 by Trump’s grandmother and father as Elizabeth Trump & Son
WHAT?! Wait a minute. The family business was founded by his grandmother!? All we ever hear about is Fred this, Fred that. Why haven’t we heard more about her? She had to be one tough cookie to launch a real estate business right before the Great Depression. Can we petition to change the name back to The Elizabeth Trump and Sons? Don’t you think that would help the President with some image problems he’s had with professional women?
But I digress.
For four generations, the Trump family has made their name and their fortune in real estate, branding, and celebrity status. Every business needs to diversify, and the Trumps have been great at it – from hotels in Dubai to vineyards and steaks and shoes – they’ve found ways to extend the brand better than dear old Liz could have imagined.
They founded a magazine, called it Trump and put a Trump on the cover. But when a company extensively extends their brand, it can create confusion about what their core business really is. And I admit, that I’m very confused about exactly what the Trump family business is. As an example, let’s look at what Elizabeth’s scion, Ivanka, is up to:
- Inspiring and empowering women to create the lives they want to live. Which seems to be mostly about style and shopping and leading the Ivanka life
- West Wing adviser with security clearance who sits in on foreign policy briefings, weighing in on hefty issues of domestic and international import
- Real estate developer in remote markets such as Azerbaijan, extending the global reach and footprint of property deals
- A behind the scenes influence on her father, potentially softening his rough edges and quietly advocating for more liberal points of view
Here’s what worries me. She’s the EVP of at least two or more completely different businesses. No one can do that. Forget possible conflicts of interest – it’s simply impossible to do multiple enormously important jobs in completely different companies at the same time and be successful at all of them. Is there a company anywhere that would agree to this arrangement? Is there a boss, even if he’s your Dad, who would say that you should divide your time this way rather than focus on one meaningful pursuit? Of course not.
Is politics the new Trump family business? The families that make it their business make it their only business. The Kennedys. The Bushes. Sure, they do other things before they take, and after they leave, office but not while they are in office. And if governance is the new Trump family brand, then Eric and Don Jr. need west wing domiciles and security business too. And then they can stop building buildings. Not because it’s a conflict of interest (although it is) but because – it’s a conflict of intent.
My dad turns 90 next week. His mother owned a candy store, and then a small boarding house. And when he had his own small business, he named it after me and my sister. None of those small endeavors lasted, and we never confused the family businesses with the business of the family. My father couldn’t make me Italian, but he did make me business hungry, family centered, and never confused about the difference. Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.