Executive Insider

A framework for superclans to operate amid crises in the 2020s

Even in the context of the positive news about the vaccine, the prolonged pandemic is a major source of uncertainty and this affects the entire society, including the business sector. Amid uncertainty and crises, there is a desperate need to project stability and, given the massive changes we have seen in our lives since March 2020, a lot to gain from the ability to tell a coherent story about resilience and tested values. Big family businesses, or the superclans, are well positioned to capitalize on their histories of success, provided that they push more on reframing the pandemic in their own terms and values.

The family businesses have a lot to tell about identity and branding. In many ways, their trajectory is similar to the hero’s journey: you can always go back to their humble beginnings, to how they were challenged again and again, and to how a combination of grit and values always saved the day and became the basis for the rise.

One can say many things about superclans, but no one can deny their authenticity. At a time when all is about packaging and finding the right angle, their messiness of evolution is essential in building rapport and identification. This is why superclans are incompatible with commercial anonymity. Even when they are multi-billion conglomerates, uniqueness and authenticity continue to define their actions in the mind of partners and clients.

Why am I making a big point out of this? Because these days our identities are challenged to their core, it is still early to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so anything that can help us cling on and weather the storm would be a great asset. In our own journeys, we look for partners, for companions, so the family businesses have exactly this opportunity these days, if they play their cards (and their identities) well – to become our trusted resources of resilience.

The current crisis is not only about resilience and endurance, about living to fight another day. It is also about solidarity and putting one’s faith not in the power of one, but in the action of many. The family is the primary locus for networking and solidarity. The family network behind a superclan is associated with the concepts of honesty and unity – you always know what you get, and this ecosystem is good for bringing about learning that is useful beyond the business realm. There is often an opposition between efficiency/performance and continuity/values/organic growth. They cannot easily go together, some would say.

However, the superclans are best equipped to transcend this dichotomy and show how well all these elements can work together if there is purpose and clarity in terms of mission and vision. The natural process of evolution, that took millions of years, is embodied, in the business world, by this sense of slow, but steady accumulation, of doing the right thing rather than acting fast. This entire narrative is about value sedimentation, about the wisdom that can only accumulate through generations and decades of experience.

Obviously, there is a more pragmatic and colder angle to look at superclans, at family businesses. We can start from the definitions: in a family business, the family has to control over 50% of the voting rights in a board or, when the company is listed, the family should own at least 32% of the voting rights.

Moreover, the family members should be involved in the daily operations of the business. However, all these are meant to send one clear, strong signal: that powerful values, such as the ones rooted in the concept of family, can thrive in a competitive environment. In times such as the ones we live today, my argument is that superclans should reframe their strategy and communication to bank on their most competitive advantage: their values and their history of resilience. The ability to easily relate to what is happening in society should transform superclans into the natural partners for everyone interested in long-term value generation. 2021 will set an example in this sense for the next decade.


Written by Radu Magdin.

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Radu Magdin
Radu Magdin is a global analyst and consultant, former prime ministerial advisor in Romania and Moldova. He writes on global leadership and communications. He is, since 2012, Chief Executive Officer of Smartlink Communications, where he advises people and organisations on how to best manage crisis and reputations, and is a well know analyst at home and abroad, having being widely quoted as an expert by global media. Radu Magdin is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.