family business conflict

Can Unresolved Family Business Conflict Destroy Your Legacy?

Globally, family businesses form the backbone of the economy, contributing significantly to growth and development. In India, over 85% of all businesses are family-owned and are a massive part of this nation's GDP and economy. Family businesses aim to thrive beyond a single generation, with many creating strong legacies for themselves over decades and centuries.

However, one issue that plagues many such businesses is intra-family conflict. These family business conflicts can lead to major fallouts that have the potential to be immensely destructive to the legacy the businesses may have built. A notable recent example of this includes the Godrej split. This blog dives into the intricacies of family businesses, conflicts and how to maintain good family ties in business.

What are Family Business Conflicts?

Family business conflicts encompass a spectrum of disagreements, tensions, and disputes within businesses primarily owned or managed by family members. These conflicts can manifest in various aspects of the business, from strategic decision-making to financial management and interpersonal dynamics among family stakeholders.

A hallmark of family business conflicts is their deeply personal and emotional nature, stemming from the complex dynamics of familial relationships within a professional setting. Common areas of contention include succession planning, divergent business strategies, roles and responsibilities, compensation structures, and differing visions for the future trajectory of the enterprise.

Causes of Family Business Conflicts

Family business conflicts arise from a myriad of sources, both professional and personal, which interweave to create unique challenges within the business. Succession issues often serve as a focal point for conflict, with disagreements emerging over who will assume leadership roles and how the transition will occur after the senior generation of the family passes on. A lack of clarity on the decision-making processes can further intensify confusion among members, leading to conflict. Additionally, another source of conflict could be perceptions of unequal contributions among family members and sibling rivalries, which can breed resentment and discord within the business.

Poor communication can further aggravate tensions, leading to misunderstandings and misaligned expectations among family stakeholders. Differing goals, values, and visions for the business's future can further complicate matters. Additionally, role ambiguity and unresolved personal grievances may spill over into professional realms. Furthermore, generational disparities in approaches and perspectives, coupled with financial disputes and underlying power struggles, can form a volatile mix that fuels family business conflicts.

Consequences of Conflict

The repercussions of unresolved family business conflicts resonate across multiple dimensions, affecting both the business's operational health and the family that underpins it. At a personal level, strained or fractured relationships among family members can corrode trust and collaboration, hindering effective decision-making and dampening morale. Business operations may suffer from disruptions and decreased productivity, further impeding growth and innovation.

In the broader context, the reputation and credibility of the business may be tarnished, which may affect relationships with clients, suppliers, and stakeholders. The loss of key talent and exposure to legal and financial risks further compound the challenges posed by unresolved conflicts. Most critically, family business conflicts pose a profound threat to the legacy of the enterprise, jeopardising its long-term viability and eroding the family values and ethos upon which it was founded.

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How to Resolve Family Business Conflicts?

Resolving conflict in family business requires a proactive and systematic approach that addresses both the symptoms and underlying causes of conflict. Effective communication operates as the cornerstone of conflict resolution in family relationships by fostering transparency and mutual understanding among family members. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities delineates expectations and mitigates ambiguity, fostering accountability and cohesion within the business.

Another way to reduce conflict among family members could be to engage professional mediators or counsellors specialised in family business dynamics who can provide valuable insights and facilitate constructive dialogue. Implementing family governance structures, such as family councils or advisory boards, establishes frameworks for decision-making and conflict-resolution processes. A transparent succession plan that incorporates input from all stakeholders can mitigate succession-related disputes while emphasising shared goals, values, and family vision, fostering alignment and collaboration among members, and promoting family harmony.

Professionalising business practices and regularly reviewing and evaluating governance structures and strategies ensure adaptability to evolving family dynamics and business imperatives. Ultimately, a commitment to conflict resolution must be ingrained in the family's ethos, prioritising the preservation of the family's collective vision and legacy for future generations. To be a successful family business, resolving the family business conflict that may arise becomes a crucial pillar.

Furthermore, Harvard Business School professors and students developed the 3-circle model of family business conflict resolution to resolve any discord among family members and also provides a framework for organising family firms.

Examples of Family Business Conflicts

In India, even the biggest of giants have been plagued by conflicts within the family. This includes the likes of companies like Reliance and Godrej, both of which are established names in their industries. One of the most well-known family business conflicts in India involved the Ambani brothers- Mukesh and Anil of Reliance Industries. After the death of their father, Dhirubhai Ambani disputes over control and the division of the company led to a high-profile feud. The conflict resulted in the division of the business into two separate entities, with Mukesh retaining control over Reliance Industries Limited (petrochemicals, oils, refining, textiles) and Anil taking charge of Reliance Group (telecom, power, entertainment). 

The Godrej family, one of India’s most prominent business dynasties, has also experienced internal conflicts. The disputes revolved around differing visions for the company’s future among various family members. After years of negotiations, however, the family decided to split the business amicably with various parts going to Jamshyd Godrej, Nadir Godrej, and Adir Godrej. 

Other notable examples include the feud between the Kirloskar brothers and the conflict between the Chhabra cousins of the Finolex group. 

Dabur: How the Burman Family Avoided Conflict

A notable example of how to best avoid business conflict within a family could be Dabur. The Burman family professionalized Dabur in 1998 to avoid family business conflicts and foster growth. They appointed non-family professionals to key management roles, established clear governance structures with a family constitution and council, and implemented structured succession planning. These strategies ensured objective decision-making, aligned family and business interests, and prepared the next generation for leadership, contributing significantly to Dabur's success and stability.


In conclusion, family business conflicts present complex challenges that can jeopardise both business success and familial relationships. However, proactive measures can effectively manage and resolve these conflicts, preserving the legacy and continuity of these enterprises. Emphasising transparent communication, establishing clear governance structures, and engaging professional mediators are vital steps toward conflict resolution.

Additionally, a cohesive succession plan aligned with shared family values fosters collaboration and mitigates succession-related disputes. By prioritising mutual understanding, accountability, and adaptability within family businesses, stakeholders can navigate conflicts successfully, ensuring sustained growth and preserving the unique ethos that defines these enterprises across generations.


What are Family Conflicts?

Family conflicts refer to disagreements, tensions, or disputes that occur within families. These conflicts can arise due to various reasons, such as differing opinions, misunderstandings, competing interests, or unresolved issues. They may involve disputes over values, expectations, roles, or decisions within the family unit. Family business conflicts can impact relationships, communication, and family dynamics, potentially leading to emotional strain and disruption within the family as well as the business structure.

Which is the Biggest Source of Conflict within Family Businesses?

A lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities can be one of the most significant contributors to conflict. Furthermore, issues such as sibling rivalry or division of property and estate by senior members can also cause family business conflict.

What are the Effects of Family Conflict?

Family conflict can lead to emotional distress and strained relationships among members, affecting communication and trust. It may also impact mental health and overall family dynamics, influencing children's well-being and development.

Samar Takkar

Samar Takkar is a third year undergraduate student at the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research. An avid tech, automotive and sport enthusiast, Samar loves to read about cars & technology and watch football. In his free time, Samar enjoys playing video games and driving.

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