Summary of Family Business on the Couch

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Family Business on the Couch book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Analytical
  • Concrete Examples


James Michener begins his novel “Hawaii” with the splitting of a cell. This trio of psychologists doesn’t go that far, but the authors do lay an extensive framework for applying psychoanalytic psychology, systems analysis and family therapy to the family business arena. getAbstract thinks that this serious text may be more of a resource for therapists, counselors and consultants than reading material for people who take only a casual interest in family businesses or who are looking for a quick fix. Authors Manfred Kets de Vries and Randel Carlock, writing with Elizabeth Florent-Treacy, delve deeply into the human dynamics that affect family-run companies, including the psychology of the individuals involved, the characteristics of entrepreneurs and the business family-paradigm. They look closely at human and organizational life cycles, and study how emotional volatility intensifies in times of transition. The authors make generous use of case studies, diagrams and models, and demonstrate how they’ve applied their methodology to advise troubled family businesses.

About the Authors

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries is a psychoanalyst, consultant, professor at INSEAD and author of Leaders, Fools and Impostors. Randel S. Carlock’s books include Strategic Planning for the Family Business. Elizabeth Florent-Treacy also works at INSEAD and has written or co-authored several books, including The New Global Leaders.


Steinberg Inc.

For many years, in Canada, the name Steinberg was synonymous with “grocery store.” To support her six children, Ida Steinberg opened a small neighborhood grocery in 1917 in Montreal’s Jewish ghetto. Her son, Sam, joined the business at age 14 and later bought the store next door, doubling their retail space. Subsequently, he opened a new store in a fashionable Montreal suburb and made his brother Nathan its manager. Steinberg’s thrived during the Depression due to its customers’ loyalty. It became one of the first self-service grocery chains, and continued to expand and earn profits in the 1940s, when Sam opened stores in suburban shopping centers. By 1960, the company had almost 100 stores and a rapidly increasing real estate division, as well as a warehouse operation. A pioneer in the concept of the full service supermarket, Steinberg’s boasted sales in excess of $4 billion when Sam Steinberg died in 1978.

Sam always ran his company as a small family business, even when it grew into an enormous enterprise. Sam’s employees loved him as much as they feared him. Hard working, ambitious and charismatic, Sam oversaw everything, made all the major decisions...

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