SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: On leaving a legacy

David Bentall’s newest book Leaving a Legacy has taught me a lot about the possibilities and pitfalls of family businesses.

David is from the third generation of well-known real estate developers. For 20 years David worked in the family business, including seven years as president and CEO of Dominion Construction, during which time they built the $100-million Rogers Arena.  

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In reading David’s new book, I learned that family businesses on average last 24 years, twice as long as other companies. The oldest family business, Kongo Gumi Company, has been in existence for 1,414 years so far. The average CEO only lasts five years, in contrast to family business leadership that can last for decades. I had no idea that approximately 85 per cent of all companies worldwide are family businesses. As the “economic engine of the global economy,” family businesses provide 50 per cent of North American wages. David’s book helps family businesses to integrate family and business, so that one’s business does not destroy one’s family. Wise families always put family first and business second.  

David comments: “In business, success is measured by profits earned; whereas in a family, the yardstick is love.” Money given unwisely to one’s children ends up being a curse: “They don’t need more money or more stuff. They need more of their parents’ time and more of their love.”  

One of the challenges of family businesses is that the new generation has often not been mentored regarding what it really means to work. David encourages family business members to initially work outside of the family firm in order to gain perspective. Growing up in the shadow of highly successful parents can cause the new generation to suffer from an acute sense of inadequacy.

David comments: “To say that my self-esteem was fragile would be an understatement.”   

Many family businesses suffer from lack of good governance policies and structures. Less than one per cent of family businesses, says David, have effective boards. In his book, David writes that the Bentall family paid a high price because of this omission, resulting in a “fractured wasteland of broken relationships.”  

David has dedicated his life as a consultant and executive life coach helping other family businesses avoid these same costly mistakes. His transparencies about his own leadership foibles make compelling reading.

David and I go back a long way. He was there the night that I came to a personal faith in Christ at age 17. David mentored and encouraged me in my first steps of faith. He has been able to integrate his faith and his business life in a way that is not often seen. Genuine faith walks the walk, not just talks the talk.  

One of the generational strengths of the Bentall family is integrity. Granddad Charles Bentall was famous for building downtown skyscrapers on no more than a handshake. Jimmy Pattison commented: “David C. Bentall is a man of great integrity and depth. He’s also insightful and caring.” My prayer for the Seymour/Deep Cove community is that we too will leave a lasting legacy of integrity.

Rev. Dr. Ed Hird is the rector at St. Simon’s Church in North Vancouver, Anglican Mission in Canada.

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