Realities and Myths of Entitlement in Business Families


Entitlement in family business is not always about the next generation, at times it also includes the founder generation’s beliefs, patterns and ways of being. Just as the younger generation feels it may have the right to one day run/control the business, the founder generation feels it has the right to run/control it for as long as they are alive, and at times beyond their death. When either group has a difficult time letting go of its beliefs (a form of entitlement), it can devolve into what I refer to as an entitled brat.

When we think of the archetypical entitled brat, we usually think of the spoiled rich kid, or trust fund baby/adult with an attitude of “serve me, you minion.” Some examples that come to mind for me are Paris Hilton (great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton), Jamie Johnson (great-grandson of Robert Wood Johnson) or Liesel Pritzker (heiress to the Hyatt Hotel fortune). All of us possess similar traits, or “ways of being” (a form of entitlement) within ourselves and these same “ways of being” will manifest (through our behaviors) from time to time throughout our lives.

While I was doing research for my book Entitled Brat or Contributing Leader, which one are you…are you sure?, I wanted to explore entitlement from a different perspective. My perspective was based on posing the following question:

What if we are all entitled to our thoughts, judgements, prejudices, beliefs and behaviours?

I believe entitlement comes from a need that was not appropriately met as a child, particularly one of the fundamental needs of being loved; of having a sense of belonging; of control or autonomy; or of being recognized, acknowledged and affirmed. If these fundamental needs were not appropriately met at the right age then emotionally we are at risk of getting stuck in an arrested stage of childhood, searching for some way to get the unfulfilled needs met. We do this by manifesting a sense of entitlement.

At some most basic level, a sense of entitlement is an outward manifestation of a “scarcity mentality,” which is primarily fear-based and where personal validation is sought extrinsically. We either make the assumption, or believe, that we are lacking something or missing something inside of us. We look to others and to outside influences (titles, roles, money, power, control) to try and meet our unfulfilled needs. We do this by “acting out” and manifesting entitlement through our behaviours.

I believe that entitlement does not discriminate by the colour of our skin, our nationality, our gender, our social/economic status or our age. With this in mind let’s explore entitlement in business families.

The Reality

Whenever the topic of entitlement comes up within a business family context, the default assumption is we are talking about the next generation and its sense of entitlement. It appears that the next generation gets blamed for being the “entitled ones.”

This may not always be the case. Most of us may have dealt with a founding generation member who has a difficult time letting go of the control, and never seems quite ready to pass on the control to the next generation. There usually seems to be a reason why the founder is not ready to relinquish the control, or the power. This emotional reason is a form of entitlement on the founder’s part. And, the excuses will be: “the next generation is not ready” or “they don’t have enough experience yet.” The founder believes that it (the business) is his/hers to run or control forever.

Other situations may involve senior generation family members “hanging onto or harbouring” feelings of resentment or anger or forgiveness towards their parents and/or siblings (another form of entitlement). This is where the senior generation feels entitled to promote behaviour patterns that serve their families poorly. By being an example of choosing to stay resentful, or angry or unforgiving, the senior generation is modeling for the younger generation how to behave in entitled ways.

Most of us have seen or have at some stage experienced a “spoiled rich kid” behaving with a form of entitlement, who could be anywhere from ages 15 to 95. I have, as I was one of them. My father was a very successful entrepreneur who was rarely around. When he was, he would shower my mother and me with gifts. At the time it felt great to get all of these toys from far off lands; but this did not serve me growing up. I became entitled to having things as a substitute for having a father. One of my forms of entitlement was the belief that love can be substituted by things/gifts.

Whenever I am speaking about entitlement to a group of business families, inevitably parents will be seeking the silver bullet on how to deal with or address their “entitled” children. They will come to me and ask questions such as: “How do I deal with my spoiled kids?” or “What can I do now that they already are so entitled?”

My response is always the same: “Take a look at what you (as a parent) may have done to contribute to this current state of entitlement.” Or put another way: “What has your role been in the current situation you find yourself in?”

It is easy for society to point the finger and/or label the younger/next generation as being entitled. This is common, particularly in business families, where there is the general perception of the next generation wanting the wealth and or/power without having to earn it. Yes, this is true for some. There are many instances where the title of “entitled brat” is fitting and appropriate. It is easier to cast that title onto the younger generation because as a society we are focused and looking for entitlement in our youth.

The reality is we all behave with a sense of entitlement, young or old. We all (at times) feel we are owed something that we may not want to have to work for or have something we are not willing to let go of. Business families are not exempt from this. Both founding/senior generation members as well as next generation members at times behave in ways which are a manifestation of entitlement.

The Myth

There are two myths in business families when it comes to entitlement. The first myth is that it is the children’s fault that they are entitled. CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette in his article of March 13, 2015, “Narcissists aren’t born, they are made,” goes on to say: “Afraid of being too hard on our kids many of us are being too soft. Instead of helping them we are hurting them.” The environment a child grows up in greatly contributes to one’s beliefs and behaviours. This is particularly true with individuals who behave with a sense of entitlement. Parents seem to overlook or maybe not consider their role in the creation of the entitled child.

If one were to get honest with oneself as a parent, one may want to take ownership of contributing to the development of an entitled child. In my book I describe one of the biggest challenges parents have: “Oh my, what if they (the children) don’t like me (the parent)?” Parents mistake having the need to be liked by their children with the need to be respected by their children. So, it is quite common for parents to make life a little easier for the children so that the children don’t have to suffer as the parents may have. By making life easier for the children, the parents may not realize they are taking away their children’s drive, hence contributing to the sense of entitlement.

There are a couple of actions that contribute to the development of an entitled child:

  • The parent’s general inability to say “No” to their child’s request. This starts at a young age and escalates as the children gets older.
  • The parents trying to make up for lost time or their feelings of guilt about having money (just as my father did). They try to buy their children’s love.

The second myth is that entitlement is a next generation phenomenon. As examined earlier, this is clearly not the case. The founder/senior generation is just as capable of acting/behaving with a sense of entitlement.

Developing Contributing Leaders

How can business families and their advisors better prepare themselves to transform from a culture of entitlement to a philosophy of contribution?

There are three steps I highlight in my book which, when followed, assist families and advisors to address entitlement.

  1. Be willing to accept feedback from another; perhaps a friend, family member or trusted advisor.
  2. Take responsibility for your current situation.
  3. Be committed to taking action to change.

When we (regardless of our age) operate from a position of entitlement, we cannot be of service to another. This is particularly true in business families, that rely on a system of contribution. The two main enemies to the continuity of business families are a controlling founder/senior generation member and entitlement.

It is important to the continuity of business families that we as advisors and family members be willing to examine our own sense of entitlement and the impact it has on the family system. There are too many lives at stake, from the employees of these businesses, to their suppliers and their customers. The price of being selfish and operating from a place of entitlement is too big.


About the contributor:

Francesco (Franco) LombardoFrancesco (Franco) Lombardo is the founder of Veritage Family Office in Vancouver, Canada, which assists individuals within families by uncovering their truth about who they are (TRUTH ABOUT YOU), so they may better communicate and connect with each other to create harmony in the family. Franco can be reached at [email protected].