2020 started with a thud. An inconceivable announcement by the Royal house of Sussex that left everybody shell shocked and the royal enthusiasts divided.
I’m going to look at it from a family business perspective because, in all reality, the Royal Family is a family business with deep traditions and binding history.
Questions like, “What has Harry done?” “How dare he want to leave the family business?” “What independence?” “Is it his wife influencing him?”
Many stories have equally done the rounds with opinions on what could have been done better, who is in the wrong, etcetera. But honestly speaking this stance by Prince Harry as we all fondly know him is not a new one, nor is it strange. As a family business advisor, I would like to explore a few reasons why.
- The Royal family has a time-worn succession plan. Prince Harry is always going to be in line to the throne, but currently, he is 6th in line after his nephews and niece. When he was 3rd in line, he toed the line and did his best to uphold tradition in line with the expectations of his position. His choice now does not, in reality, endanger the business at all.
- A few years ago, Prince Harry met the love of his life. He married her, and they are building their life. Prince Harry is also the Duke of Sussex, and he has a family.
As much as he may be committed to the broader family business, he now has the micro family nucleus that he prioritises. The strains of being in the larger family business may be straining his nucleus, family, and at the end of the day, he goes home to that nucleus.
Anyone with a family and a significant other will understand the pressures of juggling the bigger family business when it conflicts with the nucleus family needs. It, at times, comes to this point, and decisions must be made that serve the best interest of the affected party.
- Choosing to leave the family business is always an option, and we must therefore not assume that every child will want to be part of the business. This is a significant stumbling block many family businesses face. Why would a child want to leave a profitable family business? Well, because we are all born as individuals. We all have different interests. The business may have been there long before we made an appearance.
But this does not mean that we want to be a part of it. In the face of conflict with their loved ones, many children sometimes toe the line because it is expected of them.
This could have been the exact situation our Prince was in. He cannot change how he was born or to whom, and he has a deep love and respect for his family, yet the job he has to do within the family may not be one he finds joy in. Coupled with his new family obligations, he may have just chosen a new normal. From given statements, he’s not giving up on the family business; he’s just stepping away from the day to day running of the business.
- Craving independence is not a crime. It’s not always that children born into business families crave for the wealth or title that comes with the family. Princess Ann opted to have her children not be given titles.
Similarly, Archie may be title-less. It, however, does not make him less of a royal. And it certainly does not take away any of the birthrights that Archie or Prince Harry May have as family members unless the family decides as much.
- Protocol does not always apply to mental health and self-preservation. People are built differently. Every family and business must recognize it. The groundbreaking documentary done by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after their South Africa tour made it very clear that Mental Health must be a priority.
Furthermore, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have been very vocal upon this matter. Self-care must be a priority in all businesses and families. More so in high-pressure jobs such as the one they face. Families in business must realise that it’s better to have stable businesses without sacrificing family members’ wellness to keep the business going.
- Values can change over time despite old traditions; we can create new ones. Tradition, like culture, is the way we do things around here. Many elements in life can change this. As we have seen from the Netflix series, “The Crown and various Royal Autobiographies”, marrying a divorcee was once forbidden in the royal family. But time and values have changed, and we now see that The Prince of Wales and the Duchess Of Cornwall began a new tradition. So this change may be a change being ushered in by the Next Generation that will equally be eventually embraced.
- Getting the right assistance and advice during the transition is critical to ensure the family holds onto its values while supporting the new normal brought about by change. Outside and objective consulting is crucial during such times. Mainly because when we are in the midst of the storm, it’s not always easy to see as clearly as someone outside.
To summarise it all. This may be shocking to many; however, I would like to believe that in the family business space, this is not something new or surprising. The Royal Family is a family business like any other. And it has evolved in many ways over the years it has existed. This is a hurdle that they are trying to navigate as a family and a family business. As we watch with interest as outsiders, we must also respect that many families go through such transitions. It is how they are handled; that is what safeguards the future.
Tsitsi Mutendi is an African family business specialist focusing on family business governance, structuring, and succession planning. A member of the organisation AFF (African Family Firms) She writes in her personal and professional capacity. Comments and views: [email protected]; [email protected]