Summary of Centuries of Success

Lessons from the World’s Most Enduring Family Businesses

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Centuries of Success book summary
Family businesses prosper when they can reinvent themselves, when they value their legacies and when kinfolk get along.


7 Overall

6 Applicability

7 Innovation

7 Style


Rather than interviewing one scion about building a single family business, author William T. O’Hara profiles 20 of the world’s oldest – at least two centuries – family-held businesses, representing a combined 8,911 years of experience. O’Hara uses profiles of these companies and their leaders to explain how these family businesses survived when so many others failed. Generally, only about a third of family firms survive the transition from the founding generation to the second wave, and the mortality rate worsens over time. Given the global reach of these businesses and their extraordinary longevity, O’Hara offers unique information. The drawbacks are slight: sometimes the book reads too much like an anecdotal travelogue and occasionally it surrenders to generalities about family businesses, though that may have been unavoidable. These quibbles aside, getAbstract strongly recommends this book for anyone seeking insights into how families work together, stay together and profit together, generation after generation.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What some common traits of successful family businesses are;
  • What difficulties family businesses face; and
  • How, despite of those, families pass companies down through the generations.


The Family Business Boom
The family business arguably dates back to when Abel took care of the flocks and Cain tilled the soil. Today, more than 75% of all the world’s business is conducted by family enterprises. While the family that works together may not stick together indefinitely, ...
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About the Author

William T. O'Hara is the founder and executive director of The Institute for Family Enterprise and president emeritus of Bryant College. His ideas have appeared in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Newsday and The Philadelphia Enquirer. He lives in Wakefield, RI.

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