Part III of our series on Shakespeare and Family-Owned Businesses takes us back to a familiar theme: managing succession in ownership and leadership in family-owned businesses. And we turn again to Lloyd Steier, Professor in the Department of Strategic Management and Organization at the University of Alberta School of Business and Director of the Alberta Business Family Institute, for his insights. According to Professor Steier, the third and final Shakespearean method of surviving success comes from Romeo and Juliet, and it is that your family business must always be eager and prepared to adapt.

Like Romeo and Juliet, every family business feels the tension between an older generation wanting one thing and a younger generation wanting another. Romeo and Juliet were told repetitively to end their romance and respect their families’ wishes. Yet their families failed to ask Romeo and Juliet what they wanted. They failed to see the world through their eyes. The failure to consider Romeo and Juliet’s desires paired with relentless familial pressure resulted in tragedy.

How can your family business avoid tragedy (although hopefully not quite as tragic a fate as faced Romeo and Juliet’s families)? Steier advocates for greater involvement of the younger generation in the decision-making process – and starting at an earlier stage.

Millennials are the young generation of our day today, and there is no shortage of commentary on the different world views millennials bring to the workplace. Odds are that the millennials that may succeed to your family-owned business see the world dramatically differently than their parents. Instead of resisting these new perspectives, like the families of Romeo and Juliet, your family-owned business should embrace the millennial perspective “because they are pretty much going to do what they want anyway… If we don’t, the business may end up dead – just like Romeo and Juliet,” says Steier.

Although dramatic, the point is well taken. It is in everyone’s interest to bring the next generation into the business as soon as they are ready. They learn the business and they learn the delicate balance of family and business. But they also bring new thoughts and an appetite for innovation. The evolution into this new way of thinking will come into the business whether the older generation likes it or not, so an early introduction allows for a longer runway and a smoother transition.


Keith Baldwin is a business transactions and securities lawyer with a forty year history of serving clients’ legal needs. Keith focuses his practice on business relationships, including mergers and acquisitions, agreements among owner-entrepreneurs, and best practices for corporate governance. Keith can be reached via email at or directly at 425.646.6133.