In Praise of Nepotism
an interview with author Adam Bellow
Adam Bellow is the author of a remarkable new book, In Praise of Nepotism : A Natural History, which in our opinion is a must-read for anyone in a family business. Or maybe we should just say it is a must-read, family business or not. He's also editor-at-large for Doubleday and former director of the Free Press.
BELLOW: The old nepotism was discredited by the Crash of '29 and the Depression. People began to feel that the American business elite was too nepotistic, they had gotten rich and given out partnerships to sons and sons in law, they allowed family interests to outweigh business rationale. It was the subtext of the Depression, and it had a powerful and lasting effect on our view of nepotism and family management in general.
After WWII, American business went global. There was a boom in the economy, and a new era of corporate management and governance was introduced. Along with that came efficiency, meritocracy, etc. It was the era in which nepotism rules were instituted in big corporations and government. And that was a good thing. It's not my purpose to say that nepotism should be left alone, because what you get then is what you see in Nigeria, India and Brazil.
We still need nepotism. It still has a role. The story in my book is the war we've fought since the American Revolution, not to get rid of the family itself but to limit and curtail the influence of family interests in both the public and private sectors. We did that in the interest of greater efficiency and fairness. However, I argue that in our attempt to get rid of nepotism, we haven't stamped it out but transformed it. What makes it new is that it respects fairness and merit. It's a new nepotism regulated by a deep-seated commitment to those values...
There's nothing wrong with sibling rivalry. It may give people some comfort to see family dynamics as disruptive, and many think that they force the business to be counterproductive. But the opposite is true. History shows that these are powerful forces and they often supply the motivation and drive that gets people to strive for excellence and give that last ounce.