Blog 48_Michelle Osry

This week, Michelle Osry, a partner in Deloitte in Canada, suggests two books to add to your holiday reading list, and a TED talk for further inspiration.

What can family enterprises learn from the Dalai Lama? Can conflict be reduced to an equation? How can we find lasting joy in this world?

This holiday season, I would like to recommend two books and a TED talk that help answer these questions. I hope they inspire new thinking and practices for you and your family enterprise.

Deconstructing Conflict: Understanding Family Business, Shared Wealth and Power is about conflict in a family enterprise. The book, by Doug Baumel and Blair Trippe, overflows with science, anecdotes, and conflict management tools, including the masterful “Conflict Equation,” which connects reasons, triggers and ways to reduce and manage family conflict. Deconstructing Conflict offers some powerful themes:

  1. Conflict is inescapable in any family enterprise
  2. Such conflict is more likely to involve stakeholder identities than money
  3. How families manage conflict is central to the success or failure of their family enterprises
  4. Strong family bonds are the best protection against the escalation of conflict
  5. Successful conflict management deals with economic and personal issues simultaneously

With chapters focused on different parts of the Conflict Equation, Deconstructing Conflict makes a wonderful reference for families as the issues they face evolve.

In my experience, many families avoid tough discussions for fear of causing conflict. However, left unaddressed, passive conflict can leave families stuck and unable to make effective decisions on behalf of their enterprise, putting both their family and enterprise at risk.

As the authors of Deconstructing Conflict point out, conflict and reconciliation in family enterprises is no different than in other situations. It involves the need to be heard, understood and included in important decisions regarding our futures. When we feel respected and not under threat, we are better able to listen, negotiate and commit to making changes that support family harmony.

My second book recommendation captures the exchanges and stories shared by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu during a week together in Dharamsala. In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, the central question posed to both is: “How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?”

The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop consider the true nature of joy, its obstacles, and the qualities that allow us to experience more joy. Co-author Douglas Abrams captures the conversations between the Nobel Laureates in a simple and elegant fashion, often referencing the science that supports the dialogue. For example, Abrams refers to neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s neuroimaging research into a unified theory of the “happy” brain. Davidson’s view, that generosity is in fact one of four “circuits” that influence well-being, dovetails with what the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop are advocating: love and generosity to others in our life.

Though from different genres, Deconstructing Conflict and The Book of Joy contain similar messages. Both acknowledge the inevitability of conflict and see the potential for reconciling the most challenging situation. Each advocates for practices that nurture empathy and build communication and dispute-resolution skills.

Too often, business families underestimate the time, resources and skills required to navigate wealth and family dynamics. Accordingly, in our work with families, we encourage both personal and structural development, and emphasise that it is a vital part of the overall effort needed for a family enterprise to evolve and flourish over generations.

My final holiday recommendation is a TED talk delivered by Boyd Varty called: What I learned from Nelson Mandela.

Varty grew up on the Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, a safari business owned by his family for four generations. When he was nine, Mandela came to stay, having just been released from 27 years in prison. Boyd points to Mandela embodying Ubuntu, meaning “humanity to others”. (Archbishop Tutu also refers to the importance of Ubuntu to societal well-being in The Book of Joy.)

One of my favorite Mandela stories is told in the foreword to Deconstructing Conflict. Attending the 1995 World Cup rugby final, held in South Africa, Mandela donned the Springbok rugby jersey of the former oppressors. A simple gesture demonstrating respect and acceptance, and signaling to all that reconciliation was possible.

These concepts and heroes inform my work with families. It takes tremendous grace, courage and generosity to share wealth and power across generations. I have the good fortune to learn every day from the enterprising families that graciously share their journey with me!

I hope these recommendations provide you with food for thought this holiday season.



Michelle Osry – Deloitte Canada

Michelle is a partner in Deloitte in Canada, where she leads their Family Enterprise Consulting practice. In her role, Michelle works with a diverse mix of private and family business clients of various sizes and needs. Her focus of work is around helping multi-generational families to become aligned around their vision for the future and advising on family governance, structure and assisting with the creation and implementation of family constitutions. Michelle draws on her 20 years of business consulting experience in North America, Europe and South Africa to work closely with the family, facilitating family meetings and advising them on issues specific to the family.