It’s a Wonderful Life is not only a classic Christmas movie, it is also a classic example of the issues facing the next generation of Family Business owners.  George Bailey, the oldest son at Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, faces terrible personal and professional issues as he grapples with running their second-generation business including:

  • Pressure from Family to go into Business — George is an adventurer and dreams of building important buildings worlds far away from Bedford Falls.  However, he is pressured to stay home to work in the business.
  • No Clear Succession Planning – When George’s father dies, the Board stops Uncle Billy from becoming the President.
  • Poor Business Planning – Sam Wainwright offered George an opportunity to get on the ground floor of their new family business, but George declines.
  • Relative Addiction Issues – Nobody actually states that Uncle Billy has an addiction issue; however, you didn’t say those things in 1940’s Hollywood Christmas movies. George does say to Uncle Billy, “Where’s the money, you silly stupid old fool?  Do you realize what this means?  It’s means bankruptcy and scandal and prison!”
  • Difficulty with the Board – When Peter Bailey added Mr. Potter to the board, he thought his problems with dissipate. Instead they became more intense.
  • Sibling Rivalry – George is very supportive of his brother who’s a football hero, war hero and was able to leave Bedford Falls to work in his wife’s family business. How much support is tinged with jealously?
  • Lack of Peers – When George is feeling really stressed who does he talk to about his issues: Mr. Potter – the meanest man in town; Drunk Uncle Billy; or Clarence, a Second Class Angel.

It’s important to remember that George’s problems are so overwhelming that they drove him to jump off the bridge.  How much healthier would George have been if there was a NxtGen at Martini’s Bar or Mr. Gower had another child that was interested in taking over the business?

While “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an extraordinary story of hope and redemption and clearly the quintessential Christmas movie (sorry, “A Christmas Story”), the emotional underpinning is the story of a man who struggles with being a Family Business NxtGen.  Without the family business driving the narrative, you have the story of a man who made a lot of bad decisions in his life.

Fortunately, everything works out for George, Uncle Billy, Zuzu and the Baily Brothers Building and Loan.  Of course, it works out best for Clarence because “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings”.

Happy Holidays!

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