Family Dynamics

The Story of the Shieh Family


Dr. Shieh was the patriarch of the family.  He ran the family business for over 50 years.  He had four children – Tom, Joyce, David and Max – eight grandchildren, and five great-great grandchildren.

The entire family was gathered around his bed in the home he had lived in for forty-six years.  He had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  He had been drifting in and out of consciousness for two days.  His breathing had become very erratic.

David, the middle brother, led the family in prayer.  Everybody in the family held hands.  The youngest great-grandchild sat on the bed, holding her great-grandfather’s hand as he passed away.  Dr. Shieh’s wife, Grace, was standing between the two oldest sons, holding their hands.  She was about to become the President of the family business – even though she never stepped foot in their factory.  Her oldest son, Tom, was the Vice President, and the de facto leader of the company.  Now the four children would be tasked with carrying on this 3rd-generation family business.

The four children, Tom, Joyce, David and Max, all were married at least once.  Tom was on his third marriage.  Joyce and David were both married twice, with their second marriages lasting over 30 years.  Max was recently divorced.  All own both common and preferred stock in the business.

Everybody in the family, including the spouses and ex-spouses, got along well with each other.

The night Dr. Shieh died, at 86-years old, was the culmination of his life’s work.

Dr. Shieh spent his life building the business so his children could have financial stability, and a legacy.  He was surrounded by them the night he died.  He passed down not only the business, and his wealth.  He passed down the pride in the family name – and the sense of honor in creating a legacy for the next generation.  All of Dr. Shieh’s children were involved in the business.  He died knowing they would pass it on to the next generation.

But it wasn’t always like this.

For nearly 25 years Tom, Dr. Shieh’s eldest son, was the only 3rd-generation family member to work in the business.  If something would have happened to Tom, there would have been no other family member left in the business.

The family held a huge birthday party to celebrate Tom’s 50th birthday.   All the employees of the company were invited. It was that night at the party that Tom had a talk with his younger brother, David, about coming into the business.  David had his own advertising agency that wasn’t doing all that well.  It took several months but eventually David agreed to help his older brother run the company.  There was nothing but respect and love between Tom and David.  They had small disagreements about the operation of the company – but they never made it personal.  They truly admired and respected each other – and enjoyed working in the family business together.

Next, Tom encouraged his younger sister, Joyce, to start working at the office one day a week.  Joyce hadn’t held a job in over 20 years.  She stayed home to raise her two children.  She was reluctant to come into the office because she wasn’t sure how she would be able to contribute.  Tom told her that it was important to have another family member oversee the money going out of the bank accounts.  He asked her to start by helping with payroll and accounts payable.  She started by only coming into the office on Mondays.  Within three years she was in the office every day – managing the company’s entire accounting department.

Eventually Joyce, David, and Tom all had at least one of their children working at the company as well.

Nobody was forced or pressured into working in the family business.  They all wanted to carry on the family name and business that was started in 1912 – the very year Dr. Shieh was born.

But what started off as family unity quickly turned into family turmoil.

In hindsight, this could have been easy to predict.  A typical business is run by a top-down hierarchy.  A chain-of-command style operation when “bosses” tell “workers” what needs done.  There are deadlines.  Unexpected problems.  New competitors enter the market.  Key employees leave and must be replaced.

Business decisions must be made and executed – sometimes very tough decisions.

A family, especially one centered around a group of siblings with their own children, is not a top-down hierarchy.  When families work together there are often tensions in the family dynamics.  These tensions are often amplified when medical problems arise.

That’s what happened to the Shieh family when Grace, the surviving matriarch of the family had became ill.

There was tension in the family was over Grace’s medical treatment.

Joyce, Grace’s daughter, wanted to prevent the doctors from even telling her mother she had cancer.  In effect, Joyce wanted her mother to forgo getting any medical treatment.  She didn’t want to burden her with the knowledge that her life was coming to an end.

Tom, David and Max, the three brothers, not only disagreed with Joyce – they were appalled at what she was suggesting.  They believed that the cancer could be treated.  As tensions rose Joyce became more protective and possessive of their mother.  She eventually tried to prevent her brothers from talking to their own mother.

Finally, Tom, David and Max had no choice.  They went to visit their mom against the wishes of their sister.

Tom, the oldest son, took the responsibility of telling is mother she had cancer.  Joyce was livid.  Grace was not only in shock when she fond out she had cancer, she felt betrayed that her daughter didn’t tell her.

The tensions became higher than ever.

And in the middle of these tensions, Grace had to face the decision whether to have surgery or not.  She even considered not having surgery because she didn’t want to upset her daughter, who decided it was a bad idea.

Grace was fighter.  She wasn’t going to go out with a whimper.  She decided to have the surgery as soon as the doctor could schedule it.

Unfortunately, the cancer had progressed.  The surgery only delayed the inevitable.  Once again the family was gathered together, this time around her hospital bed.  And instead of everybody holding hands and praying together, there was an incredible amount of tension in the room.  Joyce and her side of the family glared at Tom, David and Max when they entered the room.  Joyce’s husband even tried to physically block Tom from going to his mother’s side to hold her hand.

The business, and the Shieh family, were never the same after that night.

Nobody wants this – especially elderly parents who spent their lives raising their family and building a business.

Every family would rather have peace and harmony – but sometimes it’s not obvious (or easy) to figure out how to get it.

That’s why Family Dynamics is one of the three main pillars of Qineticare.

All the money in the world is little consolation if there is no peace within the family.  It’s especially heartbreaking when the matriarch of a family, who often outlives her husband, spends her last years filled with stress and anxiety because her children can’t get along.

Helping families heal and resolve these types of situations is one of the most gratifying things we do at Qineticare.

If you would like to speak with us, please click on this link so you can tell us about your family’s situation.  If we think we can help you, we’ll schedule a call with you so you can give us more specifics about what you would like us to help you accomplish.  We’ll create an actionable “next step” plan together so you can begin to move forward immediately towards solving your situation.

And if you’d like us to help you implement the plan, we can talk about that as well.

With gratitude and respect,

feisal alibhai
Founder & CEO, Qineticare
Author, Four Steps to Flow