family business trivia


Poking around the wayback machine, I found this piece on our original website at UMass from 1999, I was commissioned to write this for the 10th anniversary of Family Business Magazine


by Ira Bryck

If you spend that 100 hours or so per week working with members of your gene pool, you probably are more a family business expert than you know. But how aware are you of the vast influence of family business on the arts, politics, technology, culture…even business !?!? Take the Family Business Challenge and see how worldly- wise you really are!

1) When three identical brothers, separated at birth, were reunited (all had same make of car and cigarette and wife named Nancy) they ran right out and (a) sued the birth parents for depriving them of brotherly love (b) vainly attempted to locate a fourth to start a barbershop quartet (c) opened a Romanian steakhouse named “Triplets”

2) What did Steve Forbes have to say about his relationship with his father Malcolm? (a) “He could never get from 0-60 on his Harley as fast I me” (b) ” I gladly paid his life insurance premiums, though term life is very expensive for a 70 year old ” (c) “At a very young age, I decided to enjoy my father rather than compete with him.”

3) In the film Avalon, the city-dwelling branch of the business family arrives at their suburban partners’ home, only to find that those SOBs have committed an unspeakable offense, namely (a) funneling cash offshore via pneumatic tubes (b) going discount without a family council discussion (c) cutting the Thanksgiving turkey without waiting for a quorum.

4) According to legend, what product was manufactured only after the son agreed to add the company’s core product to the formula (even as an inert ingredient) (a) the mealworm in the Monte Alban tequilla bottle (b) the Johnson wax in Raid insecticide (c) the Alfred Hitchcock cameo in the film made by his daughter

5) A cross cultural study of 22 countries shows the major factor in success among next generation leadership results from (a) the manner in which successors were trained and mentored (b) the extent to which their parents had outside interests and proper prior planning (c) their innate inner motivation to achieve

6) Which of the following represents the most accurate understanding of family dynamics? (a) President Bush spinning off two governorships to avoid clash of brothers. (b) Congressman Patrick Kennedy declining certain promotion to his father’s Senate side of the business. (c) Elizabeth Dole taking the reins from a faltering spouse; d) Hillary Clinton ditto. *

7) The ubiquitous statistic that 2 out of 3 family businesses fail to make the transition into the second generation still holds true, despite the fact it (a) was first derived from a study of industry in Chicago in the 1920s (b) did no DNA testing on the sample group of failed successors (c) included in the sample several married first cousins selling Amway products

8) In the film Mouse Hunt, two oddly matched brothers are thrust into partnership by acquiescing to their dying father’s last request. After much distress, they find a way to compromise and create a product that combines their interests. Is that product (a)a robot that feels your pain (b) a computer mouse with fur and tail (c) string cheese (4) coats made from free range lemmings

9) Which of the following is not an actual advertising slogan from a family business?: (a) “A Family Business You Can Trust” (b) “Family Disowned Since 1998” (c) “One Tough Mother” (d) I’ll give you a great deal or my name isn’t Whitacre!”

10) Which is not an example of low emotional intelligence?: (a) “if you would stop bugging me I could stop being so defensive.” (b) “I feel sad when you don’t trust me,” (c) I think I’m feeling right about this!”

11) In Substance of Fire, the VP son successfully forces his father out, taking control of the business, when he (a) was able to convince his shareholding siblings that their father was insane (b) launched an E-commerce spin off just before the fire in the specialty paper warehouse (c) promised to finally pay dividends rather than sinking the profits into the father’s fascination with exorbitant Holocaust coffee table books

12) In 1000 Acres, two daughters exile the third when (a) she hired an outside consultant to assess their emotional intelligence as a key to rethink compensation (b) she went on a talk show to discuss their buy/sell (c) she used her legal skills to oppose the father’s succession plan

13) What could Albert Einstein have meant by the following ” If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y plus Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.” (a) your right and left brain are required in tandem (b) Jack is too dull to grow the business (c) your brother in law is about to open across the street.

14) Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil, revealed in group therapy that he would accept his son combining his own interests with family values. Was the compromise notion (a) a computer virus named Attilla? (b) an Evil Petting Zoo? (c) counterfeiting a funded Buy/Sell agreement with Bill Gates

15) Which cross cultural aphorism describes the vagaries of family business fortunes through the generations? (a) Shirtsleeves To Shirtsleeves In Three Generations (b) Prophets To Profits In Three Generations (c) Workaholism To Alcoholism In Three Generations

16) Several years ago Working Woman magazine listed America’s largest businesses with female owner/managers and CEOs. What did 22 of the 25 women on this list have in common? (a) they described their husbands as “in control” even though they didn’t do squat (b) they either co-founded the business with husbands or inherited it from their parents (the other three were leveraged buyouts) (c) they described themselves as traditional, not feminist**

17) Though he was dead-set to leave the family business, which he swore he would never join in the first place, Michael comes to realize that marketplace pressures have fated him to continue. Does he exasperatedly exclaim: (a) “Time to make the donuts…again ! When will it ever end?!” (b) ” If I never squeeze the Charmin again it will be too soon!!” (c) “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

18) Name the autobiography of Tom Watson, Jr., CEO of IBM during its growth as the dominant computer company in the world. (a) Father and Son (in which he rails on about conflicts with his father, brother and sister) (b) Send in the Clones (in which he predicts that nobody could ever dent IBM’s stranglehold) (c) In Ram We Trust (All Others Will Crash) **

19) Who gave Bill Gates his introduction to “Big Blue” that led to his supplying MS-DOS as the operating software for IBM personal computers — the deal that launched Microsoft? (a) His mother, who sat on a non-profit’s board with an instrumental senior IBM executive (b) Gates briefly dated the daughter of Thomas Watson, Jr. (c) Gates and Watson both belonged to the same therapy group, dealing with an addiction to Pong. **

20) Which “take no prisoners” scheme from days of yore would repulse even the likes of J.R. Ewing?: (a) posing as the older, action-oriented, hairier heir to steal the proverbial baton (b) casting the favorite son into the proverbial pit (only to have him reappear as CIO at a thriving neighbor organization (c) slaughtering anyone on your team with allegiance to graven images (d) picking a few righteous people who can “get with the program” and starting anew (drowning the rest in a giant flood)

21) Several years ago, simultaneous marketing campaigns were aimed towards wealthy gays and lesbians in San Francisco, and wealthy family businesses and family offices in Boston. Which campaign was more successful? (a) the gay/lesbian group (who identified themselves as gay, allowing for a focused advertising effort) (b) Family businesses (who denied, overall, that their business was family owned, but pleased to be categorized as wealthy) (c) both groups were offended to be paired and compared with the other**

22) Which one of these Jewish Country and Western Songs is likely to top the charts at the next conference of Family Firm Institute?: (a) “I Was One of the Chosen People (‘Til She Chose Somebody Else)” (b) “New Bottle of Whiskey, Same Old Testament” (c) “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Latkes” (d) “My Darlin’s a Schmendrick and I’m All Verklempt” (e) “Mamas Don’t Let Your Ungrateful Sons Grow Up to Be Cowboys (When They Could Very Easily Have Just Taken Over the Family Hardware Business that My Own Grandfather Broke His Back to Start and My Father Sweat Over for Years Which Apparently Doesn’t Mean Anything Now That You’re Turning Your Back on Such a Gift)” ***

THE ANSWERS… the following questions have right answers: 1C /2C /3C /4B /5C /7A /8C /9D /10B /11A /12C /14B /15A /16B /17C /18A /19A /21A… The other questions don’t have “right answers,” as don’t many family business issues (not that you can’t find solutions!). SCORING: Not Too Many Right? Maybe you should take a little more time off- you’re working much too much! See a couple of good movies! Take a walk in the woods! Not Too Many Wrong? What are you doing, sitting around watching movies and taking quizzes about family businesses? Get to work! It’s too easy to fix fictional families- you have a real one of your own!!

Some material was generously inspired or donated. Many thanks to * John Bullard, UMass Dartmouth Family Business Center; ** Richard Narva, Genus Resources, Needham, MA; *** anonymous email joke