Maintaining Trust

By Bill Rock

Family businesses are one of the world’s most trusted institutions

Like millions of people around the world, I was captivated by HBO’s Succession. The show follows the Roy family, owners of a multibillion-dollar media empire. I found the dialogue witty and looked forward to each episode. However, I didn’t find any of the main characters admirable, and most were downright horrible. This view of the characters was shared by many of the family business leaders we interviewed for our story on family businesses and pop culture. Most TV and movie portrayals of family businesses either depict them as mom-and-pop shops or inflate internecine conflict in order to show them as dysfunctional. In many shows like Succession, the families are composed of morally bankrupt people. Neither the family members nor their companies are to be trusted.

While this makes for great entertainment, from my experience interacting with hundreds of family businesses, I’ve found most have deep reservoirs of trust built painstakingly over the years. And I was encouraged to see that America recognizes this, despite how they are portrayed in TV shows and movies. Around the same time as Succession’s season 4 started, Edelman, a leading global communications firm, published its annual Trust Barometer (see charts below). For more than 20 years, Edelman has studied the influence of trust across society, and its Trust Barometer is a leading authority on the matter.

The 2023 report found that “Business” is the only trusted institution, far outpacing “Governments,” “NGOs” and “Media,” none of which were thought to be trusted. But, as the 2023 version makes clear, the only reason “Business” as a whole rated this highly is the great regard for family businesses, whose trust factor was higher by 12 and 9 percentage points than public and non-family-owned private businesses, respectively. Family businesses are one of the most trusted institutions.  

As we’ve written in Family Business magazine and discussed at our Transitions conferences, this finding is not surprising. Many family businesses focus on creating long-term value, which enables them to better balance purpose with profit, support multiple stakeholders and develop values-driven cultures.




Trust is important because it leads to tangible benefits. Many customers and suppliers prefer to buy from and work with trusted businesses, which is why many family businesses promote the family connection in their brand. Likewise, many people choose to work for family businesses because of their long-term focus and community commitment, which often results in taking better care of their employees.

With this trust comes higher expectations and greater responsibility. It takes years, and frequently even decades, to earn trust and confidence from employees, customers, suppliers and communities. However, this trust can quickly fade, as evidenced by the recent steep drop in trust in other institutions assessed in the Edelman study.

Ensuring the family values perpetuate are crucial aspects of the long-term success of a family business and the family members’ legacies. To do so, many thoughtful families embrace an intentional approach to ownership structures and succession planning; set a long-term vision and ensure alignment with this vision; educate the next generation on the family history; and integrate community service into their values.

Given the depressing fact that very few institutions have garnered trust, maintaining the trust level in family businesses is more important than ever. I’m encouraged to see that most of the family businesses I know are nothing like the Roys. And I’m confident that, given the long-term focus of many family businesses, when a future Edelman Trust Barometer is released, family businesses will continue to maintain that level of trust. 

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