The Loss of a Family Business Icon

In February 2013 I received an email from an unknown source with a Subject: Leon Danco.

The email was from someone whom Dr. Danco referred to as the “original gorilla.” You see, “gorilla” was the term Dr. Danco penned to refer to the man who sleeps with your baby! So, the original gorilla was Dr. Danco’s own son-in-law, Barry Doggett.

Doggett wrote to inform me that Leon Danco had passed away peacefully Feb. 3, 2013, with his loved ones by his side. He thanked me for recognizing Dr. Danco’s contributions in a recent article I had written that he had stumbled across.

There was no need to thank me-¦quite the contrary; I was honored to have met Leon Danco and heard him speak so eloquently and candidly about his passion for family business. My only regret is that I only got to hear him in the twilight of his career, but he did give me a valuable piece of personal advice back in 1991 that was the beginning of my career in his field.

My family’s business had closed, a victim to the recession of the late 1980’s, and I was looking for a new start. Not realizing it at the time, in an effort to lick my wounds I was attempting to forge a career in family business consulting. So, I did my research and found that the pinnacle of the field was Dr. Leon Danco. His ground-breaking book “Beyond Survival -“ A Guide for the Business Owner and his Family” was nearing its 15th printing since 1975. I like to call it the Old Testament of the family business field.

What better place to seek advice than from the pinnacle of the field? So, I called Dr. Danco and managed to get him on the line (yes -“ phones were hard wired back then). He was kind enough to give me -“ an unknown -“ more than an hour of his time talking about the field of family business and why having been in one that closed did not qualify me to be a consultant. Believe it or not, he did convince me that I needed to forge new territory before I could be helpful to others who were owners and managers in their family’s business.

Leon Danco earned his MBA from the Harvard School of Business and his Ph.D. in economics from Case Western Reserve University, but he was much more of an educator than a student. He saw the value that families brought to their businesses and visa versa. He recognized the undeniable loneliness the family founder faced in leading both his business and his family and helped countless CEO’s find comfort in that position.

Dr. Leon Danco lived a long and prosperous life. He lived for 1068 months (he liked to think of time as our most precious commodity and to think of it in months instead of years -“ but that’s 89 years). He touched tens of thousands of family businesses by his consulting, writings, seminars, workshops and retreats.

He was eulogized in a number of publications, including Forbes with an article titled, “A Tribute to a Family Business Legend, Dr. Leon Danco” (

Dr. Danco had many pearls of wisdom, but none better than his Twelve Commandments:

“To assure the survival, the profitable growth and the successful continuity of his company, the business owner must now begin to effect changes in the five areas of his activity: (1) managing his people; (2) managing his money; (3) gaining commitment from outsiders; (4) managing succession; (5) managing the estate and sharing the dream; and (6) managing time.

If I were Moses, I would select within these five areas of concern Twelve Commandments for the business owner in search of specifics for his economic salvation:

  1. Thou shalt inform they managers and employees, “This company will continue forever.”
  2. Thou shalt continue to improve thy management knowledge, that of thy managers and that of thy family.
  3. Thou shalt develop a workable organization and make it visible on a chart.
  4. Thou shalt institute an orthodox accounting system and make available the data therefrom to thy managers, advisors and directors.
  5. Thou shalt develop a council of competent advisors.
  6. Thou shalt submit thyself to the review of a board of competent outside directors.
  7. Thou shalt choose thy successor(s).
  8. Thou shalt be responsible that thy successor(s) be well taught.
  9. Thou shalt retire and install they successor(s) with thy powers within thy lifetime.
  10. Thou canst not take it with thee -“ so settle thy estate plans -“ now.
  11. Thou shalt share thy dream with thy family.
  12. Thou shalt apportion thy time to see that these commandments be kept.”

We have lost an icon. RIP Dr. Danco.

Rick Segal is the principal at Segal Consulting. He holds a Certificate in Family Business Advising with a Fellows status from the Family Firm Institute. He is the founder of the Family Business Council and its affiliated Study Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting