Generational Transition is an intensely and extremely delicate phase without precedence and not only for family-run businesses but also, and above all, for an entire modus operandi that transcends time, conceptions and visions of a world that is ever-increasingly changing and which we must keep pace with without, however, losing sight of what are the principles of a transition of assets, tangible and intangible.

The exploration must necessarily begin here from a wider speculative perspective that also goes back to the legislation through a reflection made from afar. From a legal point of view, the Generational Transition is understood as a multi-year process in which legal, tax and administrative aspects involve the migration of an activity or of physical assets from a more adult generation to a younger one; this transmigration also entails psychological, social and cultural factors which will inevitably see personal and family dynamics overlap with those of work, business and assets. As is often the case, and that is easily imaginable, this road is not without hurdles, as it involves both offspring or other willing heirs, and other hereditary subjects. The transition, in any case, tends to guarantee the continuity of identity but brings with it new responsibilities and unavoidable changes, often punctuated with heated clashes that are only too familiar to lawyers.

What happens, in a certain way, is a sort of passage from a ‘ritual coherence’ to a ‘textual coherence’, where the latter reveals terrible problems that, for example, in the Made in Italy entrepreneurial universe have led to the disrupting of a number of historic family-run business, today appendices of foreign holding companies that have sometimes lost every connection with the intellectual heritage of the founder.

As stated, what commonly happens in the business and entrepreneurial world has been commonly known to art for centuries, in a slightly different way. I am referring to that world of the workshops, that originated in the classical period and established itself in particular in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. The concept of bottega, or workshop, can undoubtedly be associated with the names of Giotto in medieval times, pioneer of that corporative vision, of Raffaello in the Renaissance and that of Rubens, archetype of the Baroque era. Since the Thirteenth Century, in any case, the workshop was the place of the so called ‘master’ who used to seek assistance from students, including ones whose families paid a master for him to teach their sons a job. In the workshop there were many figures around the artist-master, with increasingly levels of responsibility until these places eventually became actual forges of talent, at times similar to those that today we can imagine as individual cultural and commercial design firms, at other times as ante litteram theoretical and practical training academies, where the ‘business risk’ was split between the teacher and other colleagues, actual corporations or companies. The work of tutoring could be performed independently by the artist or also using the assistance of helpers, appropriately paid students. The latter applied to ‘be taken on by the workshop’ to learn from the best masters and to be able in future, to become themselves masters. Like labourers and employees, the assistants were selected and used for their skills and quick practices of execution of some parts of the artistic work. Today, this would be referred to as an apprenticeship or internship or other forms common to the language of the world of work. However, what marks a sort of similarity to the Generational Transition topic is that, also in the craft workshops there was a passing of the family baton. Scrolling through our mnemonic archive, we can recall the names of Bellini and of Mantegna, of Parmigianino, of Carracci, of Canaletto, of Correggio, Artemisia Gentileschi and, in the 1900s, the Cascella dynasty not to mention other well known names – De Chirico, Pistoletto for example – . Despite this, being the child or sibling of other artists was not always an advantage. The History of Art, like the history of man, has taught us that on many occasions, artists who grew up in the family workshop, which also allowed them to cultivate their talent in a privileged environment, revealed the shadow of their predecessors as claustrophobic, which resulted in a separation of the second generations. 

What we could metaphorically conjure up with the image of a crossing, is proposed as a synaesthesia and returns, once again, to the universe of art, linking itself to our theme. Choral studies demonstrate that, for example, works relating to Giotto and to his workshop were signed by letters and monograms of the master, the purpose of which was almost not a handwritten demonstration but intended to provide a ‘guarantee’ seal of authenticity of origin, that is, what we would now call the (company) ‘logo’.

What is clear is that the matter of the Generational Transition assumes very broad outlines that determine certain close consonances with aspects that belong to other dimensions. Back to our topic – analyzed from a modern day normative perspective -, it is necessary to explore elements that make a similar process more complicated than could possibly be believed.

The crossover that we imagine as clear handing down from one generation to the next,  (an almost physiological step in a family-run business) can however sometimes become a shipwreck, actually due to the limits that are to be sought ex ante in this mechanism.

The most common errors involved in this process undoubtedly include the one that considers the Generational Transition as the handing down of notions such as ‘tradition’, ‘history’ and ‘family’ considered as inviolable cornerstones; this misunderstanding includes those developments which if in fact replace the senior hierarchies with the assignment to the junior ones of the company actually results in the former claiming to continue to maintain control indirectly. Hence, complex actorial issues come into play which originate both from the entrepreneurial and corporate adventure, and from intrinsic family plots which often make things even worse.

This attitude – which psychologists could explain very well – can be counterbalanced by the so called  “mirror error”, that is the one that comes about when entrusting the junior generations with an iron will to change or break away with the past which, however, risks compromising those values on which the founders have centred the development of the company. These, seemingly appearing to be ‘borderline cases’, actually contain an almost infinite multitude of exempla, often dealt with by case law. It is often the case that the Generational Transition turns into a battlefield for a power game between the parties who, through different and opposite choices, mark their role and their vision.

We have already mentioned Giotto’s signature and, putting this reference into context, just think that a company logo can be one of the reasons that complicate a Generational Transition. If the logo tout court, represents the identity of a company, it will also have to respond to the changes that occur within it in order to be able to prove its truthful recognition, even if the desire not to distort the roots of the origins may appear superfluous.

Changing a logo, giving a new architectural look to a company headquarters, changing its intellectual, production, commercial or financial processes is not always wrong. Change brings with it the new and the unknown, it abandons all certainty of the past; however, it is through change and transformation that each cycle is renewed, like existence and what belongs to it.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France

Looking beyond the Board of Directors meeting rooms, it is possible to find other reflections, concerning a type of Generational Transition that emerge – or rather, have emerged – from family-run companies to make their way into collective society. Just think of the cities built on the commission of the Lords who had entrusted the task of building identifying places to artists and architects with the proviso that they should, however, be enjoyed by the entire population: Milan, for example, still retains the grandeur of the Visconti and Sforza imaginary.  The same can be said for the Ferrara of the Este and there is also the Pienza, or the village of Corsignano, the birthplace of Pius II, transformed into a sort of ideal Renaissance city by Rossellino on the commission of Pope Piccolomini. A majestic Generational Transition that did not end within the walls of the family inheritance. Today, especially in architecture, there are many examples, from Dubai to Shanghai, where change has been the key to a transition between old and new generations, passing through a process I am very fond of and which refers to the New York Village and the passionate Jane Jacobs, an American urban planner who dared to challenge the real estate developer par excellence, Robert Moses, in the 1960s. Jacobs battled for years to prevent Greenwich Village from losing its social, cultural and collective identity threatened by Moses’ hideous overbuilding strategy. She managed to win an extreme battle, even having to flee to Canada but leaving future generations with a more liveable New York.

Stories like these are reflected in social micro-areas such as those of family-based businesses. Back to this world – which is the heart of the investigation carried out with Jaumann – we can only wonder: can the Generational Transition be a natural and conflict-free process? Can the Generational Transition take place thanks to ad hoc legislation for all the fundamental elements of change?

In theory, the Generational Transition takes place in the form of a fluid transition, in a natural way and within what we could consider an obvious historical cycle of things, as it exists according to the history of humanity. Often the parties, i.e.  the seniors and the juniors, do not already hold a fruitful and constructive dialogue, a sort of alternation training, showing, in the end, some pre-established plans and the need for rapid action. It is known that the gap between generations tends to produce centrifugal, distancing energy. How could heated – and sometimes  even deleterious -clashes  for the company be avoided?

By implementing an attitude which is equal yet contrary to the obvious one: if you imagine or expect that the Generational Transition will be a natural change in the family and business, it is wise to view it with the need for agreement and harmony that define the epochal change in a detached and balanced manner. Ideally, we should avoid bringing into it all the problems concerning the affective sphere; the company is not the family and the family is not the company. It is not a cynical reasoning and must be understood with due attention. The glamourised cliché must be contrasted with a rational point of view that can, in fact, maintain the perfect balance, in order to simplify the consultations and conciliatory dialogue, otherwise the dangerous risk of “Generational Transition impossible to take forward” turns into an octopus with its omnipresent tentacles.

Therefore, moving away from the toxic dimension of clichés is the starting point for a smooth and profitable change. The new does not destroy the old.  If anything, conscientiously, it can improve it, draw lessons and benefits from it, enhancing it with what current events bring: new knowledge, new technologies, new forms of communication and so on. The effort to balance these factors must take place, synchronously, on both sides, so that the Transition is a sort of relay for good teamwork.

Easy, right? No.

And it is precisely on the concept of easy that the response to the second question that we asked ourselves a few paragraphs back can be found. How can the normative help this process? Who should we turn to in the case of Generational Transition? We usually seek out the services of an accountant, a lawyer and then a notary public. In truth, however, the first two figures, assigned by many companies to take them forward fail to grasp the whole nuances of the matter. We therefore realise that there is no real professional figure capable of projecting the needs and requirements of the parties in the least complicated direction.

Here, therefore, the facilitatorenters the scene – still rarely used in our country – who, with a sociological rather than a technical approach, very often presents the parties with a reasoning on the status of the situation that could generate – or has already generated – a family and business conflict. This debate takes shape and reaches the stage of development of a so-called Charter of Values​ drawn up by the antagonists, in which the two generations are asked to put aside purely private issues and allow a profoundly human vision to emerge through which to observe, objectively, the situation. Here is the ‘detachment’ mentioned above – in order to guarantee to the analysis of the facts a removal of anger or other negative elements. This entity ‘facilitates’ change and partially replaces legislation which, in fact, does not protect the new generations.

Indeed, both the new recruits and the assets or assets to be protected as such do not enjoy protection in the Generational Transitioncare often reserved to spouses and exes as such but not to children, for example, in Family Law – since up to now nobody has ever thought that even this passage requires ad hoc jurisprudential legislation.

Italy is one of the countries in which the next few years will be the protagonists of hundreds of Generational Transitions and, apparently, the legislation is not ready to address business situations that, according to the numbers, will not be able on their own to initiate and positively take forward management change. This means that many companies could cease to exist as such, unable to carry on the founding values and travel the new road, destined for closure or acquisition by other major companies and ending up being pawns on someone else’s chessboard.

The Generational Transition is the brainchild of its time transition that, however, cannot do without the past but neither can it condition or stop progress.

“Since ancient times, the golden thread has been the symbol of knowledge that comes from personal experience and is free from institutional conditioning. It is a thread that represents the continuity of an experience that is always ancient and always new. And it is thin because, in every generation, this awareness is maintained by a minority of individuals.
This thread is golden because it is immortal, it always remains even in the most chaotic and dark times, sometimes more apparent, sometimes more hidden.”

Raimon Panikkar

Today, that golden thread should also be linked by the legislature so that the value of that symbol is not burdened by the chaotic and dark events of human history.

Text by Azzurra Immediato, Photo by Fabio Ricciardiello