Disengaging 4 | Lit Fuse
Disengaging 4 | Lit Fuse
I just got off the phone with my mom. She was telling me what some of my friends are up to back East—banking, law school, teaching—hah! They can be corporate all they like, but I definitely wasn’t made for an office. I want to make my own way. Here at Cannon Bridge, I get to work with my hands, make decisions about the future of the winery, and test myself at improving our varietals. Those guys can keep their office life; I’m making real change.
I was telling Mom about the winery—she remembers when it was built, back when she and Dad were still together, but it’s way bigger now than it was then. I don’t remember what it was like—I was just a little guy, wobbling around the casks and carboys. They got divorced when I was four, and she only let me see Dad for a few weeks each summer. Even now, she’s worried that I’m going to get sucked into the “Cannon Family drama.”
Yeah, I miss my mom and my friends, but it’s great being here. I’m ready to make some great wine with Dad. The viticulture and oenology certificate I got from UC Davis got me ready, and Dominic, the head vintner, can help me. I’ve been working on a new blend—one that will really push the envelope and prove to my dad that blends can get us a reputation for being on the cutting edge. Wine is a young man’s game—just look at the micro-brewing industry. I’ve done a lot of research over the past six months. I’ve got a bunch of ideas and I’m ready to make things happen. Dominic was giving me some grief for messing up his Merlot by taking samples from the barrels without asking him first, but he needs to just chill.
I’ve also been talking to some of the growers here in Mendocino County. We produce our grapes here on the ridge but I’ve got my eye on some really great Zinfandel that one of my buddies is growing down the road. Dad used to purchase our grapes from Cannon Springs and he always talks about how we’re in this together as a family, but Cannon Springs is wrong for us. They’re way too big and commercial. Plus, my cousin Matthew’s vines at Potter Valley have some issues, Dad said. We shouldn’t be constrained by our family history. Business is business.
Dad told me we have a Cannon Springs board meeting coming up. So, it’ll be another yelling session between him and Aunt Joyce. My cousins and I are also shareholders in Cannon Springs—but my stepbrother and sister, Jay and Mia, aren’t. Something about Grandpa Pete’s will. In my opinion, the will wasn’t a mistake. I think Grandpa was trying to send a message about keeping ownership in the Cannon bloodline. Anyway, Dad told me I need to be at the meetings, since I’m a 20% shareholder of Cannon Springs and all the shareholders are directors. Between us, I don’t really care about that end of things so much—what I really want is a chance to show that I can make great wines.
Family Business Governance Analysis:
- Jacob has returned to California, and we can see that his presence is triggering a number of reactions in his family members, their relationships with each other, and the businesses. There are already uncomfortable family realities—the increasing mismatch between the types and quality of grapes that Joyce and the folks at Cannon Springs Farm are growing, and the wines Peter and Dominic are producing at Cannon Bridge; and the shadow of Pete’s will, which created very different ownership of the two businesses. But it would seem from the timeline that while these uncomfortable family realities have been simmering below the surface, the Cannon family business systems has dealt with them for many years without too much discord. Jacob’s arrival, though, may be the trigger that causes them to boil over.
- Yes, Jacob’s personality is a bit abrasive—he is self-centered and ambitious, and seemingly oblivious to the value of what has been created at Cannon Bridge Winery and Cannon Springs Farm. This is pretty typical Millennial behavior, and it can be deeply irritating, especially to Baby Boomers. (And, I think, particularly when those Baby Boomers grew up working under Depression Era parents who demanded obedience and very hard work, like Pete Sr. and Florence.)
- We can see that Jacob is more concerned about proving himself than he is about finding a place for himself in the existing system, from his comment that Dominic, head winemaker at Cannon Bridge, “can help me.” In the typical order of things in an operating business, Jacob might be expected to help Dominic, not the other way around, right? What we don’t know from Jacob’s comments is whether Peter and Dominic have made an effort to structure a job and a development process for Jacob, or whether it is expected he will “find his way.” Having clear responsibilities, and being held accountable for his performance, might temper Jacob’s ambitions a bit and, ironically, make him feel more comfortable and less aggressive. Perhaps Peter is a bit unsure about how to manage Jacob. After all, Jacob has grown up with his mother on the opposite coast, and Pete’s first instinct may be to do what is necessary to keep him around for a while.
- Jacob’s ill-informed ambition is undoubtedly irritating Dominic, and it is also about to ruffle the feathers of everyone at Cannon Springs Farm, as we can see from his insistence that “business is business,” and there is no value in the relationship between Cannon Springs Farm and Cannon Bridge Winery. Jacob doesn’t recognize the trade-offs involved, nor, seemingly, does he have the communications skills to present them in a way that might enable him to raise his points without picking a fight in the process. We’ll see what happens at the board meeting.
- Jacob’s situation isn’t just a retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son or an example of a Millennial disrupting a family business. As we discussed in our last analysis, Adult Development Theory gives us useful insight into the behaviors of someone going through a transition period, whether embarking on adulthood, going through a midlife crisis, or adapting to end of life. Jacob is in his early adulthood and in Adult Development terms he must decide what his life’s work will be, where he will plant himself, and with whom he will partner. He has a lot on his mind, but others probably aren’t aware of what he’s going through—they just find his presence in the group unsettling. It looks like Jacob’s passage through Early Adulthood may be disruptive to everyone in the Cannon family business system.
- And this brings us to a related point—everyone in the Cannon family-business system may be tempted to label Jacob the problem here. After all, his arrival has triggered all kinds of disruption. But identifying Jacob as the problem would be a mistake—instead, his arrival and his behavior in essence lit the fuse that will lead to an explosion in the Cannons’ world.
In my experience, some families would try to deal with a problem like this by identifying the individual whose presence lights the fuse as the “bad apple” or the “black sheep” and try to banish or silence them. However, that strategy nearly always backfires, because the problems exist within the system already. The individual didn’t cause them, and banishment won’t make them go away. What’s important is for the group to work constructively to identify and resolve them. For more on conflict, check out my interview with Blair Trippe, co-author of Deconstructing Conflict on More at Stake: The Family Business Podcast. Deconstructing Conflict is an important addition to the family business library, because it provides a clear and detailed explanation about what’s really going on when family business systems experience intense conflict, and excellent suggestions for how families can deal with it.