Perspectives from ISB

Given the uproar over Ivanka Trump’s sitting in for her father at the “adult’s table” at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, earlier this summer, why it is that we seem so eager to cry “nepotism” where family enterprise is concerned.

What is it, exactly, that certain segments of America find so threatening about such close parent-child bonds, be they in business or politics?

Granted, the world leaders who attended the summit have the right to be disappointed at Ivanka’s sudden elevation to the high-level table, in much the same way that, in hiring father/son plumbers, one naturally hopes to have the more experienced father on the wrench, though let’s be honest: The seasoned hand is not always the most expert or up-to-date.

But do Chicago and the rest of the metro Midwest, places built on tightly knit and often reputable family businesses, have the right to such righteous indignation? At root I suspect the vilification of so-called “nepotism” is, like so much in our culture, a largely geopolitical phenomenon.

In the agrarian Midwest, Ivanka’s stint is widely regarded as a testament of her father’s faith in his daughter-adviser as understudy, and as an affirmation of her parents’ family-first loyalties put into practice.

In other more technocratic metropolitan ZIP codes where the bias against family enterprise is deeply lodged, the fanciful veneration of the “impartial expert” over trusted kin or close associates may explain the abhorrence with which Trump’s move was received.

In either case the strength of feeling on both sides of the “Ivankagate” debate makes sense. It’s yet another example of two Americas: one comforted by tradition, the other alarmed and offended by tradition’s kneejerk reliance on inner circles.

In a highly mobile business world where education and paper credentials are expected to trump homegrown knowledge, on-the-ground connections and local and familial ties, the culture tensions at the heart of Ivanka’s priority seating will live on long after she has left the table.

Source: Michael Jack, Zachary, Aug 11, 2017,