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Ralph Stayer

This month we will focus on legacies. People who are successful in building a business come to a point in life when they are faced with the decision of what to do with it (the business, not the life). There are many avenues a person can go down at that point. Our first book outlines an excellent process to create a family business that can survive and prosper through many generations. Our second book spotlights a fascinating legacy that exists in Naples. These are different types of legacies, but they have one common denominator: a familial passion for something that has passed through several generations. One book helps plan a future legacy and the other exists today.

The Family Business Handbook authored by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer and published by the Harvard Business Review gives a step-by-step process for establishing the structures necessary to maintain a family enterprise though several generations. There is one caveat, however—no system is bulletproof. The success of any framework depends on the people in it. 

Family businesses are like snowflakes; if you have seen a thousand family businesses, you have seen 1,000 unique family businesses. The value of this book lies not only in the examples of success but also in the missteps people have made. Every decision you make has pluses and minuses. 

Should you share information on the business with your children? Should you include spouses, grandchildren? How do you set up the governance rules? Do you put it together yourself or in collaboration with your children? Should you put in a means for heirs to sell their shares and at what price? These are just a few of the questions that are covered in this book, along with examples of what worked and what didn’t. 

Our family has been working on creating a family legacy for many years. We are a long way down the road and have made many of the decisions on the questions above. My daughter found this book and sent it to all of us to read, and we have found it valuable in helping to reinforce the decisions we made and pointing the way to the work that is left undone. We highly recommend this book for those who are starting the journey and for those who are a long way down the road.  It may reveal some time bombs that can be defused before it is too late.

Miles Collier grew up in a family that loved racing cars. The Colliers were among the first to race in Le Mans in the 1930s. Miles was there when his father raced at Daytona, and he himself has raced for many years. His love for racing and, more important to this column, race cars is made evident by the race car on the cover of his book, The Archeological Automobile. That childhood fascination has manifested itself in one of the great car collections in existence—Revs Institute in Naples. I have been there as Collier’s guest and have been amazed by the incredible array of cars from all eras, but before reading his book, it never occurred to me to ask, “Why these cars as opposed to others?” 

This book is the bible on car collecting. It is worth reading for that alone, but it is far more than that. Some people are deep thinkers. Some people are broad thinkers. Collier is both. His background in archeology frames his view of the world, and he sees the automobile as the most significant invention of the 20th century. He shows how it completely reshaped the world we live in. For instance, the urbanization of cities in the late 1800s geometrically increased the need for horses for transportation and drayage. This caused significant sanitation and environmental problems. Urban growth was rapidly becoming unsustainable. This book documents the scope of the problem and how the horseless carriage enabled continued growth. 

Collier is a connoisseur of cars that have meaning beyond their beauty or rareness. His collection digs through the layers of the 20th century and includes what he considers the key cars that depict each era in general—but always with a particular eye toward racing. That is why he bought the fabulous Briggs Cunningham racing collection, which makes up a significant part of the Revs collection. Even though I have just a passing interest in cars, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It brought back memories of cars I owned and trips our family took together in our car. It unveils how the automobile created the world we currently live in, and gives a hint to where we go from here.

Revs is a legacy of the Collier family, and its presence is a gift to our community. We are blessed to have it here, and we are fortunate that Collier took what must have been a substantial amount of his time to answer the question for us: “Why these cars?” 

Ralph Stayer, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fiction as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.

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