The power of oral tradition in family business

A few years ago, the founder of one of the family businesses we consult for passed away. When the time came for the will to be read, it came to be known that he had appointed three trusted people to execute his will, one of them his close friend of many years.

Now, this friend, after listening to the will being read out, stood up and declared (paraphrasing) – “I am afraid my friend has made a grave omission in this will.” Looking at the confused visage of the heirs, he continued, “Your beloved father and my dear friend has often confided in me his desire to give away 10% of his wealth to charity. But he has forgotten to include it here in his written will!” The family estate was large with vast properties and investments. The sum under consideration would be huge. There was an ominous silence in the boardroom.  His is a scene that is probably not alien to many Indian boardrooms.

In a culture that upholds King Harishchandra as the gold standard for truth (he could have escaped many tribulations if only he had denied having given his word, but he didn’t) and celebrates Bhishmapratignya as the gold standard for keeping one’s vows (he kept his vow of celibacy and royal support throughout his life), it is little wonder that many rules are unwritten and unsaid. They are merely understood and followed from one generation to the other. Most contracts are oral agreements. In fact, it is a mark of pride that one’s word is as good as any written contract...

To be continued..

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