Dagwood Bumstead, featured in the long-running comic strip Blondie, has worked for more than 70 years for J. C. Dithers, the model for many a law firm senior partner. But that was not the way he started out comic strip life. His saga tells an interesting story about family business succession.
Dagwood began as the heir to an industrial empire, the Bumstead Locomotive Works. He fell in love with Blondie Boopadoop, whom his family considered beneath him socially. When he insisted on marrying Blondie anyway, his father disinherited him. Thus ended his future of becoming an executive in a large industrial concern, and he turned instead to more than 70 years of wage slavery, carpools, running into the mailman, etc. He seems to have become stuck as the equivalent of a third year associate. Meanwhile, Blondie started her own business, and the Bumstead Locomotive Works has disappeared. Perhaps Dagwood could have saved the company and redirected its business to defense contracting or microchips.
What’s the lesson for those thinking about family business succession, which is one of the most difficult goals to achieve but one of the most satisfying when it is achieved? It’s a better course of action for the family members to discuss each of their goals and plans. Bumstead Senior should have realized the consequences of leaving no one to follow him in the business. Dagwood could have suggested that he come into the business on a lower level so that he could prove himself. Senior’s lawyer could have explained how disinheriting his son would probably put an end to the plans to have the business remain in the family and successful. But I suppose that wouldn’t make for a good comic strip; better to feature big sandwiches and funny bowties.
Here are two sources of learning on the process of business succession, very different but both helpful. One is a book titled “Estate & Business Succession Planning,” by Russell J. Fishkind and Robert C. Kautz. The second is a series of programs on succession planning that feature a theatrical performance of vignettes in the story of family businesses. These programs have been arranged by a psychologist, Dr. Scott Budge, who has spoken for PBI on business succession planning. They are presented in Philadelphia from time to time.
Robert H. Louis