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Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R. (1996). Family Business: Human Dilemmas in the Family Firm. London: International Thomson Business Press. 287 pp. ISBN 0-415-1146-4.
Early in the book, Family Business: Human Dilemmas in the Family Firm, Kets de Vries cites statistics highlighting the importance of entrepreneurial and family businesses in the worldwide economy. He states that family firms are a prime source of employment growth in the United States and Western Europe. He builds a strong case for the necessity of coming to terms with the unique characteristics of family businesses. To business advisers and consultants, he notes the need to develop practical solutions to the special management problems that family businesses face.
The book is divided into two main sections. The first section provides the necessary framework for understanding the way Kets de Vries analyzes the cases in the second section. Kets de Vries first discusses the attributes of family businesses. Positive aspects include long-term focus, consistency of culture, and extensive expertise within the family group. Negative attributes include the possibilities of autocracy, nepotism, and reduced levels of responsibility and commitment among later generations. The author, intending for this work to be useful to a wide audience, then outlines the key areas of psychology needed to understand the case studies that follow. He uses many examples of actual family businesses to illustrate the basic concepts.
The case study section includes 11 examples—each with a fascinating title hinting at some of the psychological issues under review. "Triumphing over women and witches: Hollywood in the Alps" tells the story of a founder whose bitter relationship with the women in his life unconsciously has driven him to create a business structure sharply divided between high performing, unrecognized female salespersons and complacent, tightly knit male executives. The combination of secrecy within the groups and lack of trust between them has created a culture of anger and frustration, which has further resulted in the stagnation of the company's growth. By discussing how the founder's personal life influenced the formation of the disparate groups, Kets de Vries illustrates how the inner conflicts of family managers ultimately may impact a company's ability to compete. He further comments on what might need to happen in order for the situation to change.
Each of the ten other cases is presented in similar fashion. Kets de Vries outlines and discusses the personal history of the founder, the founder's family relationships, and the relationships among successive generations. The author encourages the reader to work out possible solutions to the interpersonal and business issues facing the firm. The cases include North American and European firms, cover a wide time spectrum, and center around such interpersonal conflicts as sibling rivalry, envy, and parental domination and control.
The author acknowledges early in the text that many of the family problems outlined in the cases result in serious business problems for the firms involved. Yet, after reading the cases, one is not left with a pessimistic view of the family firm. Instead, Kets de Vries leads the reader to a better understanding of how interpersonal relationships between family members may affect a company's ability to thrive. The business adviser, student, scholar, and manager will all benefit from the illustrations and analysis presented by Kets de Vries.
Harris, Irving B. (1996). Children in Jeopardy: Can We Break the Cycle of Poverty? New Haven: Yale University Press. 235 pp. ISBN 0-300-06892-1.
Harris began learning about the cycle of poverty 40 years ago and—in the decades that followed—studied and subsequently advocated for America's children and young families. He provides the perspective of a businessman, an advocate, and a philanthropist. As such, he is direct and has strong opinions on some controversial issues. His book represents a call to arms for a national policy on children with a focus on primary prevention programs that address the underlying causes of many of the nation's major problems (e.g., failing schools, illiteracy, unemployment, abuse, crime). He believes that there are relationships among the problems in education, the economic and social costs of welfare and crime, and the nation's public policies on infants, contraception, and abortion. He contends that quick-fix remedies only obscure the underlying problems.
Harris attempts to project the cost—in dollars and in lives—to society if the problems continue at their present rate over time. He focuses primarily on high-risk situations for infants and children, such as family dysfunction, poverty, lack of education, and teenage and single parents. He challenges "right to life" as being not only a scientific question but also a quality of life question.
Despite the complex and intergenerational nature of the problems, Harris believes that there is hope and offers suggestions. This book provides opportunities for discussion and debate among policy makers, leaders in the business, community, and political arenas, as well as human service and health professionals. While some readers may disagree with his observations and recommendations or consider them painful, he forces consideration of the serious ramifications for a country with so many children at-risk and the desperate need for a national policy on children.
Rifkin, Jeremy (1995). The End of Work. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 350 pp. ISBN 0-87477-799-8.
The End of Work argues that the continuing automation of work threatens future prosperity because there will not be enough jobs for the world's growing population. Rifkin provides a thoughtful and thought-provoking three-stage historical overview of how automation has transformed the American landscape over the last century. In the first stage, the farmers were automated off the land. Luckily, in Rifkin's analysis, they were able to go to the cities where industrial growth and expansion could provide them with jobs. In the second stage, the factories were shut down and the plant workers were automated out of work—but luckily growth in the service sector was able to sustain reasonably high employment levels. Rifkin argues that we are now stuck on the horns of a dilemma because we are automating the service sector (When was the last time you dealt with a live bank teller?), and there is no major new growth sector to take up the slack. He argues that solutions may lie in such options as a reduced work week and what he calls the "third sector"—private non-profit activities that attend to needs which are not being addressed by either the market economy or by the public sector, such as low-income housing.
I believe that there is a mixture of profound insight and exaggerated pessimism in The End of Work. It is true that the information age can and likely will continue to transform the way we live and work—sometimes as the cost of significant dislocation of working people. We might witness, for example, significant shrinkage in the number of workers in the transportation industry when people can meet and visit via teleconference instead of traveling long distance by auto or air. On the positive side, such a change might yield significant environmental benefits. Undoubtedly there will be a new divide between individuals with the education and skills to function in the new information age and those without the requisite backgrounds. Rivkin glumly (and accurately in my opinion) notes that, so far, our response has been to build more prisons and simply to store away people who do not fit in our brave new world.
On the other hand, Rifkin seems not to appreciate fully the power of technology to drive economic expansion. It was—after all—new industrial technology that took up the slack when automation drove the framers from the land. I suspect that Rifkin has underestimated the number of new jobs that are being generated by the post-industrial, knowledge-based economy that is rapidly developing. However, Rifkin is surely correct in arguing that we need a social safety net that can enable individuals and families to maintain their dignity in times of rapid change and in times of frightening uncertainty about how to prepare for work in the economy of the future.
Burggraf, Shirley P. (1997). The Feminine Economy and Economic Man: Reviving the Role of the Family in the Postindustrial Age. New York: Addison-Wesley. 285 pp. ISBN 0-201-47961-3.
In this book, economist Shirley Burggraf addresses many critical issues currently facing families in the United States: child care, elder care, schools, social security, declining fertility rates in upper-income families, and divorce. At the core of her radical proposal is a reinterpretation of the family's role in the free market economy. The family, according to Burggraf, is the single largest producer of wealth in an economy that depends on a physically, emotionally, and educationally sound work force. She sees the current system as providing equal benefits to those who neglect their children or refuse to contribute new members to the workforce. She predicts, therefore, that—barring significant societal change—the Social Security system will fail because the next generation will be smaller and less productive.
Burggraf compares the current situation with prior social and economic revolutions. When the serfs of Europe and the slaves of the American South were freed, she says, important jobs were initially left undone until landowners accepted the need to adequately compensate a voluntary workforce. In the case of the contemporary family, women have been freed from rigid gender roles that led all but a few to serve in poorly compensated roles as teachers, nurses, and homemakers. With increasing opportunities to be rewarded for their talents, women now must sacrifice—in lost earning opportunities—if they choose those roles. Capitalist societies, according to Burggraf, have not yet accepted the need to equitably reward the producers in the "feminine economy" She proposes that society reward the primary caregivers in the family for their massive financial investment by replacing Social Security with a Parental Dividend—providing the family with an incentive for investing time and effort in children, or "social capital."
Economists have often been criticized for caring more about theory than about practical concerns, and this book, too, seems to minimize a number of concerns. The author supposes that individuals—given appropriate incentives—will recognize the value of investing large amounts of time and money in a limited number of children. She further assumes that parents of both sexes will postpone gratification, choosing to abandon high-paying jobs for a long-term investment in their children. Furthermore, she says little about how a transition from Social Security to the Parental Dividend might be handled. Despite its limitations, the author's proposal and her critique of the current situation make sense if, in fact, human behavior follows market principles. This book may be more directly useful for policymakers, but for every reader it raises important questions about the connections between economic forces and family decision making.
Kozol, Jonathan (1995). Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. New York: Crown. 286 pp. ISBN 0-060-97697-7.
Jonathan Kozol's latest book takes the reader on a year-long journey into the South Bronx community of Mott Haven, the home of 48,000 Hispanic, black, and white "poorest of the poor." In 1991 the average income was $7,600. Living in squalid rat- and roach-infested city-owned public housing, the author finds pockets of hope and joy as he interviews children, parents, community leaders, teachers, and clergy. Kozol provides the reader with a view of life in Mott Haven through the eyes of several community residents. Pastor Martha Overall offers friendship, support, and a safe haven for children and their families by providing food, physical and spiritual comfort, and a secure place away from violent streets. Pastor Overall is the community gate keeper helping Kozol gain access to members who have a story to tell.
Mrs. Washington and her son David, a high school senior, are central to the story about the residents of Mott Haven. Her experiences as a welfare recipient and an AIDS victim who frequently needs to be hospitalized tell how inadequate the health care system is for residents of the area. The reader also meets vividly imaginative seven-year-old Cliffie, or as his mother says, "He lies a lot." Cliffie guides the author through the neighborhood, introducing people: Twelve-year-old Anthony compares his unhappy life with Edgar Allen Poes and writes poetry and stories to "keep from going crazy." Mr. Castro, a self-educated writer and musician, provides encouragement and friendship to Anthony by serving as his mentor. Fourth-grader Anabell, a friendly, open, joyful, trusting child who is like sunshine after a long winter, provides encouragement that there is hope for this drab community. Despite the inadequate housing, poor health conditions, gang violence, drugs, and the regular loss of loved ones, many of the children are resilient.
This reviewer recommends Amazing Grace for anyone who wants a personalized view of poverty. This book is a must-read for those interested in the lives of real people living with ongoing crisis and stress. The sadness, frustration, quiet anger, resignation, and indignation expressed in the words of the people living in the South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven are there for the reader to experience. The book is an excellent supplementary text for graduate and undergraduate students in family studies, child development, or education.