Putting a scion at the helm of a

company is often an emblem of long-term thinking

Less effective was the scion leadership of the Seagram group. That

The pressure scions face – from family members, company boards, and themselves – can be a lot to bear

based on the strength of his personality and his position in society.’ For his generation, he claimed, ‘It is only ownership that counts and not a name, however great and renowned it might be.’ The most self- aware scions – and some of the most effective – are constantly justi- fying their existence. That extends to how they treat their family legacy. Some are subtle and successful such as the transformation of Pinault-Printemps-Red- oute (PPR) into Kering. In a 2014 article, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive of the French luxury goods house, de- scribed the handover of power from his father François, who found- ed the company in 1963. After a dinner in Paris one Thursday night in 2003 at which father

asked son to take over running the family holding company Artemis, François-Henri arrived at the headquarters the following Monday to find the furniture had been switched over the weekend so that now he inhabited the corner office. Two years later when he also took over leadership of PPR, Pinault junior was faced with the familiar scion challenge of leaving things as they were or putting his imprint on them. PPR was a conglomerate involved in building products, mail order and retail and had begun to make in-roads into luxury goods with the acquisitions of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. ‘I was concerned that our assets were too closely tied to Western Europe, and to France in particular,’ he said. ‘The company needed to become more international, more growth-oriented, more profitable. So I focused on our luxury segment – apparel and accessories – which had strong potential for long-term growth.’ The addition of brands such as Brioni, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta, plus the exit from almost everything else, created Kering, a key rival to LVMH.

corporate name is a historical relic now, but it used to be one of the world’s leading drinks companies with brands including Chivas Re- gal whisky and Mumm champagne. It was built by an entrepreneur- ial Canadian, Samuel Bronfman, who sold whisky to US bootleggers during the prohibition era. After he died in 1971 the firm continued to expand under his son, Edgar senior. Dramatic changes took place under the third-generation leadership of Edgar junior from 1994. The first sign that change was afoot came in April 1995 when Sea- gram traded the bulk of its 24 per cent stake in chemicals group Du- Pont to build an entertainment empire, first by acquiring film studio MCA in 1995 and later adding record label Polygram in 1998. When Edgar junior rolled the whole business into Vivendi, a French water business that was also aiming to transform itself into an entertain- ment and internet giant, the timing of the all-paper deal looked good. But it proved disastrous as media and telecoms stocks crashed following the bursting of the dotcom bubble. Despite the disband- ment of the drinks portfolio, Vivendi’s finances were in tatters. The Bronfman family is far from broke today. But it is notable that the fears of the founder, known in the business as ‘Mr Sam’, came true. ‘I’m worried about the third generation,’ he said in an interview unearthed from 1966. ‘Empires have come and gone.’ On the face of it, scions enjoy extraordinary advantages. Rather

than having to fend off all comers for coveted roles, they are selected from a narrow field of applicants having been groomed for high of- fice from a young age. They are likely to benefit from a first-rate ed- ucation, not only at leading schools and universities but also at the dinner table, where insight into the way corporations are run is drip- fed from childhood. This time also offers the opportunity to decide whether such a path is the right choice. What’s more, exposure to sink-or-swim challenges, such as the one faced by Jean-François De- caux, provide opportunities for development that the average twenty- something graduate trainee could scarcely dream of. But there is another side to this coin. A scion’s success is taken for granted; their failure magnified. It is not easy to separate a privileged background from the strategic foreground; their comfortable start from what they have done with it. The fact that family businesses so often thrive proves that the model can work. But now and in the fu- ture, the best scions will always be those that make thoughtful, far-sighted leaders, no matter what their surname. S James Ashton’s latest book, The Nine Types of Leader, is out now

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