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The Lowdown Hub

Sometimes a founder’s image is so important. When an Iconic Founder Overshadows the Family Business



Sometimes a founder’s image is so publicly associated with his or her company, one rarely stops to ask, “Who is that person?” A few, such as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Henry Ford, and Ralph Lauren become something even more than that; they become “iconic.”



For many family businesses, having an iconic founder has enormous benefits. Building the brand of the person simultaneously builds the brand of the company. As the company has more success, the iconic founder gets more famous and more idealized by their employees and their family. What could be wrong with that?



It turns out that having a full-fledged iconic founder (or leader) is not always a good thing for the sustained health of the business. Though it might be beneficial to have an iconic founder at the helm of a business for years, it can also cause family leadership beyond the founder to be much more challenging. After all, who can live up to the image of a truly “iconic” founder who has become a kind of exaggerated character — a two-dimensional representation of the business without any visible human imperfections?



When founders become larger-than-life icons synonymous with the business itself, they begin to overshadow everyone and everything around them. Worse still, iconic founders can start to believe their own hype and hold next-generation leaders to impossible standards. They can create a “loyal” workforce that is resistant to new leadership, and potentially even cause family members to walk away from the business. Ironically, a wildly successful iconic founder can unintentionally set his be