Don’t Die Before Your Death

By Prof. Enrique Soriano

Case Study: Masaya Nakamura, founder of Pac-Man, died in his Tokyo office in 2005 at age 91. Renowned as the “Father of Pac-Man,” Nakamura’s dedication led to iconic arcade games. His passing underscores the need to balance professional ambition with personal well-being in entrepreneurial pursuits. Nakamura’s commitment to his company exemplifies the profound impact of business leaders but also serves as a cautionary tale against neglecting health and life outside of work. His legacy lives on, reminding entrepreneurs of the importance of finding harmony between career success and personal fulfillment.

In the bustling world of business, where success is often synonymous with tireless dedication and unyielding ambition, it’s easy for leaders to become consumed by their roles. The founder of a family business, in particular, stands as both the visionary architect and the steadfast guardian of a legacy. Yet, amidst the relentless pursuit of growth and prosperity, there lurks a silent adversary—the erosion of personal fulfillment and the neglect of life beyond the boardroom. The rallying cry, “Don’t die before your death,” echoes through the corridors of family businesses, serving as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between professional ambition and personal well-being. It is a maxim that transcends mere financial success, urging business leaders to prioritize experiences, relationships, and moments of serenity alongside their entrepreneurial endeavors.

For many founders, the business becomes more than just a venture—it becomes an extension of their identity, a testament to their perseverance and vision. They pour their heart and soul into its success, often at the expense of their own physical and emotional well-being. Yet, as they mature and the business flourishes, they confront the sobering reality that their time at the helm is finite.This realization sparks a period of introspection—a soul-searching journey to reconcile ambition with contentment, legacy with life. Do they cling to power, reluctant to relinquish control, or do they embrace change, nurturing the next generation of leaders to carry forth the torch?

The decision is fraught with complexity. On one hand, the founder’s unparalleled insight and experience afford them a unique perspective that is difficult to replicate. Yet, on the other hand, their reluctance to delegate can stifle innovation and hinder long-term sustainability. Moreover, the fear of irrelevance looms large—a fear that their contributions will be overshadowed by the passage of time. Yet, in holding onto power, they risk denying themselves the opportunity to explore new passions, nurture meaningful relationships, and savor the fruits of their labor.

The key lies in striking a balance—a delicate equilibrium between professional legacy and personal fulfillment. It requires a willingness to confront mortality and acknowledge that the business will endure long after the founder’s departure. Succession planning emerges as a critical component of this journey, empowering the next generation of leaders to carry forth the founder’s vision with integrity and innovation. By investing in their development, the founder ensures that their legacy transcends the confines of time and space, leaving an indelible mark on the business landscape.

Ultimately, the founder’s journey is one of self-discovery and transformation—a journey that transcends the narrow confines of professional success. As they navigate the complexities of legacy and life, may they heed the wisdom of the ages and embrace the maxim, “Don’t die before your death. Live every moment of your life!” For in doing so, they unlock the true essence of leadership—a commitment to excellence, integrity, and the relentless pursuit of a life well-lived.


Interested in stories like this? Join us for “The W+B Family Governance Leadership Series: Structure, Culture, and Succession” to not only hear more but also learn the tools and strategies to navigate the complexities of family business dynamics with clarity and purpose. The Masterclass will be a combination of virtual and onsite sessions. Don’t let unresolved conflicts hold your business back—seize this opportunity to secure a lasting legacy. Secure your spot now: