Do Family Businesses Have a “Nepo Baby” Problem?
A tacky -- but trending -- topic
By now, we’ve all heard the term “nepo baby.” If you haven’t, I commend you. You are smarter for not knowing its definition, sourcing or usage. If you want to keep not knowing about it, thus preserving your IQ, you should stop reading.
The unflattering term is used largely on social media platforms to describe children of celebrities who follow their famous parents into celebrity-hood. The problematic term “nepo” (short for “nepotism,” to be clear) implies birthright. And the theory holds that these offspring have not earned their status as influencers. They have merely assumed their coveted spots by birth. Sounds a lot like multigenerational family businesses, huh?
Anyway, the controversy swirls where it always swirls: in the neener-neener hellscape of social media’s collective conscience. Do children of movie stars and artists and athletes deserve their position in celebrity culture, or are they famous because their parents are famous? Have they earned it?
It’s so dumb. Who cares? The whole thing is a silly load of BS. And yet... (stay with me here) the conversation keeps needling me because it harkens back to the prickly subject of entitlement in family business. So, it’s been on my mind a bit.
I got a chance to talk to Ed Hart about it because it was bugging me. Whenever something is bugging me, I call Ed. He lives in Southern California, so he’s surrounded by a shiny celebrity culture. He’s also the senior vice president and director of the First Bank Center for Family-Owned Businesses, which makes him an advocate for the fam biz sector.
“It’s not so much of a ‘nepo baby’ problem as it is a perception problem,” Ed explains. “When you’re born into something like a family business, unfortunately, you are born into a stereotype. The perception is that you did not have to work for what you inherited.”
Ed and I agree. This is a wrongheaded perception, but part of a much larger trope. “Sure, there are some jerks who inherit the family business. Plenty of examples of that throughout history. But look, there are jerks in a lot of businesses. In most cases, NextGen leaders in multigenerational businesses are not jerks. They have to work harder to prove themselves and to earn their place if the business is to thrive,” Ed says. “So, in answer to your question, no, family businesses do not have a ‘nepo baby’ problem. They have a perception problem.”
Honestly, I’m not sure it matters. Greatness is greatness -- whether you're born into it or not.