Going into business with a family member can be a very rewarding experience, but it doesn't always go to plan.
Sibling-partners’ relationships are among the most challenging in family businesses. Such siblings are often second-generation co-owners of an inherited business. This means:
They may not have had a free choice as to who their partner would be.
They may be 50/50 owners – a demanding arrangement under any circumstances.
Finally, they have a lifetime of emotions and experiences to deal with in their relationship in addition to the demands on all business partners.
The strains on brothers who are partners may be even greater than those on other configurations of sibling co-owners. Business founders are often competitive and dominant males. Sons may well emulate such founders’ traits. This can pit brothers, who will someday become partners, against one another throughout their lives in seeking approval and jockeying for position.
The primal brotherly business conflict had an extreme outcome. But other than that, it provides a paradigm for much that has followed. Tensions over public recognition, paternal favor, management roles, and simple greed have crippled or destroyed many second-generation family businesses. Well-known names speak to the problems that so often arise between brother-partners.
Negative outcomes are not universal. Names such as Warner, Brooks, Lehman, and Wright testify to the potential of brothers working well together. But what all of these sibling-partners – successful or not – have in common with Cain and Abel is intensity. Feelings and history go far deeper and mean much more for brothers in business than for other partners. This may yield exceptional trust, loyalty, and compatibility – or it may mean sharp envy, grudges, and misunderstanding. (The writers of Genesis apparently thought the latter more likely.) But, either way, brotherhood can’t be ignored.