Ted Rogers and The Burden of Succession

November 4, 2008

As the Ted Rogers story comes to a close, all eyes turn to the question of succession. Will the Rogers’ empire be professionally managed or will the children assume the mantle of leadership? And if they do, will they fare better or worse than the second generation Aspers or Peladeaus who now manage their media inheritances? Or will the heirs liquidate and disappear from centre-stage much like the Waters family of CHUM fame or the Slaights of Standard Broadcasting?
There is an old axiom that the first generation makes the money, the second enjoys it and the third loses it. Some of today’s most fascinating, some might even say salacious book store fare is on the issue of succession and more specifically, the goings-on of wealthy successors. Much has been written on the Bass clan, whose sibling rivalries splintered the family empire. The magazine Vanity Fair recently reported on the latest in the saga of billionaire H.L. Hunt’s many descendents as they battle it out over any number of personal and business disagreements and indiscretions. The Busch family, of Anheiser-Busch fame, has been tabloid fodder for years as they struggle to get along and behave. Perhaps not surprisingly, the heir stories only get better with time as playboy lifestyles, meddling in-laws, envious cousins, and scheming step-children are added to the mix.
Europeans take a back seat to noone when it comes to successor follies. A recent best-selling book chronicles the story of the Dassler siblings, who inherited their father’s leather factory in Germany. These highly competitive brothers and their spouses feuded endlessly eventually setting up competing businesses in the same small town. The story of their now famous businesses, Adidas and Puma, is one of espionage, betrayal and hatred which the brothers carried to their respective graves.
In the end however, few families can compete with the Guccis when it comes to succession. When Guccio Gucci died his six children wrestled over the future of their fashion empire, literally wrestled. At one board meeting in 1982 one sibling was hit by a tape recorder thrown by another family member. One family member reported another to American authorities on tax evasion matters resulting in imprisonment for that family member. Years later, one family member was shot dead by a hit man hired by his ex-wife.
The Rogers siblings will inherit much that is to be envied. At the same time however they will also bear the unenviable weight of expectation. Such mixed blessings inspired someone to once quip that “sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.”
By the way, a recent study found that only 15% of family businesses survive beyond the second generation.