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It’s a shame to lose business intergenerationality to short-term thinking

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. His sons think he’s a bit of an idiot, to be honest.

OPINION: Life has many stages, but as most parents will know, one of the most obvious divisions of life stages is that between when one has no children and when the addition of progeny changes things forever.

If those amongst the readers who have children think back to their priorities and values ​​BK (before kids) and contrast that with how they saw the world AK (after kids), there are some distinct differences.

The most obvious difference is that BK, people generally can’t understand how an individual or couple can spend so much time and effort talking about another individual.

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Sure, we might wax poetic a bit about our first love, but individuals in the BK stage of life often scratch their heads wondering why, oh why every single conversation of the AK set centers around their children – birth, feeding, sleeping, toileting, first steps. Especially toileting!

Of course, as everyone reading who is AK will know, this concern occurs because the people we help create make everything and everyone else pale into insignificance.

I remember, many moons ago, a colleague (who was AK while I was decidedly BK) telling me that she chooses to love her husband, while when it came to her kids there was no choice. At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about, but now I understand.

So, I am going to make the ultimate mistake that one writing for a general audience can make – I’m going to fixate on my kids for a moment. Apologies in advance, but at least you’ve been warned.

Ben Kepes says work, jobs and the very idea of ​​business has become transactional.


Ben Kepes says work, jobs and the very idea of ​​business has become transactional.

Readers will know that I’m involved with Cactus Outdoor. It’s a business that has been going for 30 years and is very much a battler trying to duke it out with bigger and better-funded brands.

What readers may not know is that among the 100-or-so staff that Cactus employs, two of those staff happen to have the same last name as me. My sons, rather than take the obvious and expected route and attend university after high school, chose to join the family firm in order to learn the apparel trade, but also to do their bit to protect what will become an intergenerational legacy.

I was thinking about this fact the other day. Generally, I take the fact that I work alongside the lads with a grain of salt: we don’t interact with each other a huge amount, and the only real day-to-day impact is their regular suggestion that we all go out for coffee – conveniently on dad’s tab.

Thinking more about this unusual situation was triggered by an email that is #1 was writing to some of our customers. In it, he wrote about being the next generation in the business, and the fact that, as a toddler, he’s spent many hours crawling around the factory.

It’s a scenario that was probably very common only a few short generations ago. The sons of tailors would learn the trade alongside their fathers and thereafter take over the business. In te ao Māori, this idea of ​​an intergenerational business was hardwired into cultural norms. But it’s something that we have generally lost these days.

Part of the reason we have lost it is that work and jobs, as well as the very idea of ​​business, have become decidedly transactional.

Today the idea of ​​success is to raise a truck load of cash, scale superfast and then sell the business at a premium, all within a few short years. It’s hard to think long-term when the time horizon from go to woah occurs in the blink of an eye.

It’s also unusual because the notion of learning a trade, of doing one’s time and of slowly gaining mastery over a subject has been lost. In this era of micro-degrees, listicles detailing how to succeed in business in 10 bullet points and 25-year-olds knowing everything, this more pedestrian approach is decidedly unsexy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m involved in many startups and totally get that hustle, quick exits and rapid vocational phase-shifts are part of the DNA today. But they’re not all of it. Some things still take time, some business ventures are better matured over time. Some roles actually require years to perfect them.

But mainly, a binary view of the world in which the notion of intergenerational business is entirely foreign mistakenly suggests that the world will follow only one model. It doesn’t allow for the slow maturation, like the aging of a great red wine, into something better.

And, sadly for those who won’t get to experience it, this increasingly short-term view of the world means that others won’t be able to enjoy the experience of walking their progeny into a business, guiding them in their learning journey and then seeing the result become something better than this generation could have achieved. And that truly is a shame.

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