Family Business
WRITTEN BY Al Keating
23 September 2016

I recently travelled to Dublin, to attend Re:co, where I was asked to help a few session speakers with their one-liners and to ensure they'd zipped up their flies before stepping on stage.

That went fine.

The global coffee industry descended on that town in ways one could only liken to pilgrims visiting Mecca, or first screenings of Richie McCaw's debut on the big screen - it was huge.

All the big names were there, lanyards worn like war medals, quiffs and cuffs turned upward like moustaches - all there to see and be seen. There was a coffee-making competition on also, where the best male barista of the universe was again crowned.

That too, more or less, went fine.

I missed it, as I took a day out of the festivities to drive south-west to a small town called Rathkeale, just outside of Limerick, or as the Irish fondly refer to it, 'Stab City'. The cabbie advised me to stay out of trouble after nightfall, as local law-enforcement travel in threes from then onwards.

I was headed to Rathkeale in my underpowered hatch, scented with sanitised rental-loneliness, to meet the last of the Keatings that remained in that wee town. It was predominately a tinker town, and given it was mid-summer, many of its residents had drawn the curtains and headed to the sun-soaked beaches of Europe to pick pockets, reselling their plunder for a pretty profit.

My family, however, were not tinkers, but were dairy farmers. They lived still, on the land their parents had left behind, although an acre had been sold here and there over the years to affluent townies, to fund new cars and broadband upgrades.

Sitting at the kitchen table with my 62-year-old second cousin, learning of my roots and history, was extraordinary.

I had greatly underestimated the significance of meeting my people, sharing a meal of corned beef and hard-boiled eggs, and learning the story of my great-great grandparents. I poured over our family tree, unfurling it in the sitting room across sofas and tables, and saw my name therein; the names of my parents, my wife and siblings, even the names of my children. I had not expected it to be emotional, but in a very grounding way, it was.

Why?

I'm putting it down to story; to perspective, and connection. I learned a little about my story, and how I was a part of that. I was taught something about my people.

As a white kid growing up in Aotearoa, what I knew about my people went back as far as last year's potluck Christmas lunch. Sure, I knew who my grandparents were - I loved them. They faithfully slipped us tenners in our birthday cards, picked us up from school in cars that smelt like another time, and loved us equally even though we nearly outnumbered their years. They're gone now, and just as my lineal ignorance becomes blindingly apparent to me, I realise that a rich connection to my story has gone with them.

Our roots, and our story - as checkered or incomplete as it may be - play a huge part in who we are today. We are, by and large, the product of our cultural history.

Now, understandably, I'm going to skim over my familial discoveries - my personal stuff - because this is not the place for sharing those things.

Instead, I'm going to liken this parallel to our workplaces: the people we work for, the cultures we work in - the brands we represent. Like our generational lineage, our workplaces also have an important story that has shaped the Monday-to-Friday company we now keep.

The people who dreamed up the organisations we now work in have also fundamentally shaped the brands we now belong to. Their character, their integrity, their outlook and political bent - all of it - has formed the brands we work for.

You may be a new employee, green and keen. You may be one of the long-serving faithful who has weathered many changes in season, be they financial or cultural. You might be in a position of reasonable influence at your organisation - middle to upper management even - full of ambition, eyes on success, a decent pay cheque.

Do you still have access to the people who penned the opening chapters of your organisation's story?
Do you know, without a doubt, the roots and ‘the why’ of your brand?
Do you buy it?
Are you proud to call your colleagues family?

You can't choose your family, but you can choose your employer.
You have no say in who your ancestors were, or what they did, but when it comes to the organisation you work for and represent, that’s up to you.


Photography by Rachel Soh

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