In this issue
Mario, the 45-year-old CEO of a property management firm, calls me to request a meeting. He's entering his fourth year as leader of his family's international real estate empire. He picks me up for lunch the next day in his Bronco and takes me to the trendiest new restaurant in town. Nearly everyone we pass on the way to our table greets him by name.
When 28-year-old Price Harding III yearned for a new career in 1989, his parents' Atlanta employment agency seemed as good an opportunity as any. Bell Oaks Co.—founded 19 years earlier by Price Harding Jr. (known as Preston) and his wife, Shirley—specialized in placing candidates in junior-level management training positions. Since Price's three siblings had all followed other careers and his parents had given no thought to succession, they welcomed Price into the business.
It's a familiar syndrome: Generations ago, the company's founding brothers got into a nasty squabble that wound up in court, dividing their generation into two camps. Years later their fight has vanished from conscious memory, but their children and grandchildren still instinctively tiptoe around major issues that they should have settled years earlier.
The family's third-generation young adults, now mostly in their 30s, were raised by their parents to live well, work hard and exercise discerning tastes—and they do. With above-average personal assets, they can hire designers and decorators as they buy, build or renovate their homes.
Here's the problem: The family firm itself makes kitchen cabinets, counters, decorative tops and moldings.