VADE RETRO NEPOTISM: the other N word

February 18, 2015
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Nepotism is favoritism granted to relatives. The term originated with the assignment of nephews to cardinal positions by Catholic popes and bishops. Nepotism is found in the fields of politics, entertainment, business and religion.

In my book, it is cronyism with a big N.

Take it from the headhunter: Nepotism is POISON. Worse yet, nepotism is the devil. It sits right there next to corruption, bribery and influence peddling. Even though it has yet to become illegal, it is already a huge no-no in my book.

The minute you share the last name of your superior or someone highly placed in the hierarchy, NEVER expect to be taken seriously by your peers or your colleagues. Never expect for a promotion or salary increase not to be attributed to ulterior motives merely due to your connections to the boss. You can be the best and the brightest, the worst thing you can do is remain in your daddy’s (or brother’s, or mummy’s, or uncle Ted or aunt Tilly’s) company. It is an automatic sign of (perceived) weakness. But this has been happening and continues to happen all the time.

Do not confuse nepotism with such terms as “the Harvard mafia, “the Stanford mafia” or the “Cornell mafia.” One does not get in merely because one’s relative gave a building or two (but, who knows, it may help, yet has never been proven). Joining and successfully graduating from an elite learning establishment takes two things: excellent grades and a heck of a personality. If your daddy, your mummy, or your brother happen to be Alumni, the more power to you.

I do occasionally interview some individuals whose relatives have been successful in their respective fields. My acid test to decide whether the person sitting across me is worthy of my time and interest is very simple: if you can spend the entire conversation without dropping your relatives’ names, then you have made it in my esteem. Failing this… well, keep on walking.

This is a different issue from the need to keep a family business in private hands. If your family has been making the finest Swiss watches in the world since the middle of the eighteenth century, keeping it in private hands is just about as crucial as maintaining the quality and the timeless techniques. If your family grapes have been turned into a legendary wine since the Renaissance, do not let it go away: the winemaker is hardly ever the owner of the chateau, and it has never been an issue.

Being part of a dynasty can also be a curse: do you imagine how embarrassing to carry the first name Edsel when you are the Chairman of the Ford Motor Company? The greatest example of nepotism in the United States was the Kennedy family where, at a time, up to four family members had direct access to the presidency (including brother-in-law Sargent Shriver).

Has anyone ever had the guts to change their last name or get an “aka” in order to succeed in peace? Food for thought.


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