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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Introduction: The family business
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News website

Stuart, George and Jacqui Bateman
The series will look at family firms like Bateman's Brewery

Would you trust a pilot who said he did not have a pilot's licence but it was alright because his grandfather had one?

It was the question Labour veteran Tony Benn used to ask about peers inheriting seats in the House of Lords but it also sums up some of the criticisms made of family firms.

And yet some research suggests that as much as half of private sector employees are hired by family businesses - which is why the BBC News website is looking at some of the stories behind these firms.

Some of the businesses are only family owned, with little involvement in the day-to-day operations, but many are run by relatives working alongside each other in companies which have been in their families' hands for generations.

In the blood?

It is no surprise that putting parents and children, brothers and sisters together under pressure and throwing in that ever sensitive issue - cash - leaves ample scope for family quarrels.

And many Asian families who set up business in the UK in the 1970s are now tackling the added problem of handing over the reins to the next generation.

A study by London's Centre for Economic Performance earlier this year branded many of Britain's family businesses as feudal throwbacks and a recipe for poor management.

It said the benefits of family management were usually lost if control was passed to the children of founders and to discourage the practice, privately-held firms should no longer be exempt from inheritance tax.

Brian Charlesworth, president of the Genetics Society, said the genetical backing for handing firms down to the next generation was not exactly promising.

"The bottom line is there is probably some general tendency for abilities to be handed on from parent to offspring but there is an awful lot of noise in that relationship and I would not expected it to be a very strong factor," he told BBC News.

No frenzy?

But Luke Johnson, chairman of Channel 4 and founder of Pizza Express, has said that Britain's problem is that it just does not have enough family businesses.

"Family firms matter because they are the ultimate source of patient capital," he said.

"They provide continuity rather than the frenzied merry-go-round of public markets where hedge funds measure ownership in days rather than years."

This new series looks at some stories of the successes and problems facing family firms today.

We start with the daughter turned her father's four sex shops into the multi-million pound Ann Summers empire, hardly your traditional "& Son" family business.

The series will also look at the brewery which survived a family feud to remain independent; the eel and pie shop which has fiercely protected its family recipe for more than a century; and the family firms which still make up the backbone of Germany's economy.

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