chapter  11
“This Sad Affair”: Separation, Sentiment, and Familism in a Nineteenth-Century Family Multinational
Pages 16

Distance and geography can have profound, unsettling effects on people’s lives. The relevant management literature has treated psychic and cultural distance as an effect in international business, particularly in Multinational Enterprises (MNEs). But what of emotional distance-of affect-in international business? This chapter explores that question through the case of T. E. Thomson and Co., a nineteenth-century British family MNE. It will examine experiences of death, romance, and dispute in the early history of the firm. All organizations carry an emotional charge, but family firms might be considered particularly emotionalized arenas. But if that is so, then they might also provide the opportunity for distinctive responses to this emotionality. The case suggests a reconsideration of where we draw the boundary between the “family” and what we might call family-like effects in the family firm; just as emotion spilled over from the family to inundate the firm, so it also spilled over the family, strictly defined, to sweep up nonfamily members. In turn, responses to difficulties, whether of family or nonfamily members, were colored by family-like qualities.