The issue of succession is a difficult matter not just for family-run businesses but for the families that run them. Take the Murdochs, for instance. Or the Binghams, the Kentucky newspaper clan that imploded in the 1980s.
Historically speaking, transitions in the Sulzberger family, which has run the New York Times for 119 years, have not gone all that smoothly. During the paper’s early days, patriarch Adolph Ochs agonized over which heir should follow him: his nephew Julius Ochs Adler or his son-in-law, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. (His daughter, Iphigene, was never considered.)
The competition took a toll on all involved. In 1932, Sulzberger suffered a stress-induced heart attack, which crippled his left hand; a year later, Adler had a nervous breakdown and spent six weeks in a mental institution. Ochs clung to the notion that maybe they could share the crown. “There can be only one head to a business, ” Sulzberger replied. Ultimately, Ochs punted on the decision. When he died in 1935, his will essentially left it to Arthur, Julius, and Iphigene to work it out among themselves. Iphigene, being the deciding vote, supported her husband, thus cleaving a fault line in the family that was never repaired. The Adlers and Sulzbergers stopped speaking. In 1959, the final Adler was forced out of the paper.