Don't be a Goofus

By Barbara Spector

Senior editor April Hall and our whole team at Family Business have been very excited about April’s profile of Highlights for Children Inc. in this edition. Many of us were subscribers as children, and enjoyment of the magazine, which turns 74 this year, has been passed down through the generations in our families.

One unforgettable feature of Highlights is the comic strip “Goofus and Gallant,” which actually predates the founding of the magazine. The comic, which was created by Garry Cleveland Myers and debuted in 1940, originally appeared in Children’s Activities. When Myers and his wife, Caroline, founded Highlights, they moved “Goofus and Gallant” to that publication.

All Highlights fans know Goofus always does the wrong thing, while Gallant’s actions are reliably noble. Everyone can learn from the contrasting actions of these two characters — including family business owners.

• Goofus’s siblings owned shares in the family business but didn’t work there. Though they received financial information about the company, they never learned how to interpret the reports. When Goofus’s sister wanted to sell her stake in the business, she didn’t understand why her shares were subject to a minority discount. Now Goofus and his sister don’t speak. Gallant’s family, meanwhile, formed a family council and engaged an adviser to lead educational programming at the family’s annual meetings. When the family updated its buy-sell agreement, all adult shareholders participated in webinars that explained valuation fundamentals.

• Four years after Goofus retired as chairman and CEO, he became bored with golf and unhappy with what he perceived as his loss of status. His son had expanded Goofus Enterprises into new markets and grown revenues, but Goofus began visiting the office and second-guessing Goofus Jr.’s decisions. Gallant, on the other hand, had spent time researching opportunities prior to stepping down as CEO. After retiring, Gallant joined the boards of two other family businesses and enjoyed contributing to their success.

• Goofus never educated his children about the responsibilities of ownership, so when they grew up, they overspent and depleted their inheritance. Gallant’s annual family meetings, by contrast, brought the NextGen cousins together to discuss stewardship and their shared heritage. After the sale of Gallant Inc., the cousins formed a family office and pooled their assets to invest together.

The Highlights Goofus is selfish, while Gallant is kind to others. The family business Goofus gets into trouble because of his failure to plan ahead. He’s gotten too wrapped up in day-to-day managerial concerns and spends no time thinking about what will happen in the future, when the family and their needs have changed. Family business Gallant knows that bringing the family together for education and policymaking will keep them united in support of the business.

Gallant has endured rough patches. Consensus building is hard, and the family sometimes argues. But he gallantly ensures everyone’s voice is heard, and he valiantly shuts out the noise and keeps efforts moving forward. When his family expresses pride in what they’ve achieved, they’re not goofing.

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

Article categories: 
January/February 2020

Other Related Articles

  • Words of Wisdom

    Over the past 25 years, family business stakeholders have shared with our readers the lessons they learned from experience. Here are their thoughts on what works ... and some advice on what doesn't.

  • 25 Best Practices

    Many families have found these approaches to be successful. If you make the necessary commitment, they're likely to work for you.

  • May/June 2014 Toolbox

    Family Business and Positive Psychology, by Scott E. Friedman • American Bar Association, 2013 • 197 pp., $119.95 Author Scott Friedman is the managing partner at the Buffalo, N.Y., law firm ...

  • Family firms must learn to manage concurrency

    A fourth-generation family business grappled with the definition of family ownership for many years. They struggled with whether to limit ownership to blood relatives and what to do with former spouse...