By Dr. Despina Prinia
When my grandfather was passing away, in a very theatrical, yet very emotional move, he took off his ring with the family crest and gave it to me. I was sixteen at the time, and this silent statement was rather a burden, since I realized that there was more to this gesture than pure generosity or favoritism. Being the only woman and the youngest one, in a family of three sons, six grandsons and two great grand sons, for some strange reason, I had been the chosen one. Along with his ring he was passing on his leadership rights on the family business, making me first in command. These Semantics, strange as they may sound to the rest of Greece, where sons are always an asset to the family business, whereas women are considered a mere “liability”, was no surprise to any of us.
In fact, originating from the remote island of Oenouses, Chios, in the Aegean Sea, where men are traditionally into the Shipping industry for centuries and were often lost in the sea, it was a common secret that women, who were left behind, were the ones to be “coached” to take over the family business, should crisis hit and anything happened to them. It is this peculiarity of the trade and the landscape that made this social “irregularity” inevitable and triggered the making of a whole generation of powerful, yet silent “women behind the voice”, almost invisible, until their moment came for this bizarre transfer of knowledge and leadership. It was actually a crisis management plan and a succession plan, wisely formulated through the centuries, and I had subconsciously being coached for years for this “torch relay” to the next Olympic city. This was a piece of information practically engraved in my DNA, and yet, this gesture was to haunt me in the years to come.
This was my family business culture & semantics. Nevertheless, being too artistic for shipping and business, or so I thought up to a point, I’d rather leave this task to my brothers, while I was launching myself into Strategic Communication & Crisis Management. But in reality, in those early years of my studies, feeling that I had betrayed centuries of wisdom and tradition in business, overturning a convention and triggering disruption to my family “saga”, I had failed to see what was obvious, in terms of my profession as a Communicator: change, that only comes through disruption, in terms of culture. In fact, every time a lense is refocused a great leap is achieved, in terms of societal change. The list is infinite: politics, business, academia, societal trends… All those accidental attitude changes, in the grey zones of our emotional I.Q. In fact, I’ m a living case study on transition. Why was it that I practically ruined their crisis plan, while I was privately practicing crisis management, taking my clients destiny into my hands instead? It was simply the 21st century, and since my family was safe of those business insecurities of the past, I was safe to move on. In fact, in a business landscape of constant change & innovation, where no one seems immune from crisis, they needed an updated crisis plan and I was the living proof. I had all the proper training on crisis, and it was not wasted after all, only it was cashed out in my own business… At least, no client of mine ever complained about services rendered.
This was not necessarily bad news, merely reality, as there can always be a positive side to a crisis triggered by change. The Chinese have embraced this concept for centuries. The symbol for their word “crisis” is actually a combination of two words, “danger” and “opportunity”. It was the age of information & interactivity and there had to be even an attitude adjustment about crises, about turning points; a different way of thinking about crises; to show us that it was possible to capitalize on the capricious after all.
Prinia, D. (2009) “My Business Ring: A Voice for Social Entrepreneurship”, Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, Authorhouse Press, Indiana, USA., 2(2), p.75