I'm not sure if David Finn holds a family Thanksgiving dinner each year to which he invites his children, but you'd sure love to be a fly on the wall if he did.
The co-founder of Ruder Finn gave each of his four offspring an equal stake in the business when he decided to let go of the reins at the iconic PR agency he started in 1948 with Bill Ruder.
Ruder had a rule that his children could not work in the business. In retrospect, Finn may look back and reflect that he too should have plumped for this option.
One daughter, Amy Binder, split away from the mother ship in 2001 and set up RF|Binder Partners, which billed $12.3 million in 2010. And Peter Finn this week confirmed PRWeek's story from last August that he would also be forming his own agency – Finn Partners – leaving Kathy Bloomgarden to run Ruder Finn, the largest part of the group, which will be left with annual billings of approximately $70 million.
The fourth sibling, Dena Merriam works for Ruder Finn Group and contributes across the different agencies, perhaps acting in a shuttle diplomacy role to try and keep the ship integrated and afloat.
Finn Partners, which is predicted to achieve annual billings of $25 million, has effectively been operating as a separate agency within Ruder Finn for some time. This week's development, which hasn't actually been signed yet, merely formalizes the arrangement.
Somehow the structure appears to produce good work for clients. Ruder Finn has been particularly innovative in forging into China. But one can only wonder what some of the agencies' big clients – Novartis for example – think of the unusual setup. And if one of the siblings found a buyer for their share of Ruder Finn Group, you could imagine the lawyers would be kept very busy untangling the mess.
Over at another of the iconic founding firms of PR, Dan Edelman gave one child – Richard – a majority stake in the agency when he was succession planning and tasked him with getting on and running it. His other children – John and Renee – work at the Edelman business, but Richard is in charge and everybody knows it.
No-one really understands what goes on inside families apart from the individuals concerned, and history will show which option proved to be the most effective, but I know which one I would have gone for.