Abstract: "From Shirtsleeves to Shirtless": The Bronfman Dynasty and the Seagram Empire

Graham D. Taylor


In this paper, I focus on the three generations of Bronfman family management of the Seagram Company and on the question of whether their ultimate loss of the company was the result of a failure to adopt a professional management structure. Samuel Bronfman wrested control of Seagram from his brothers in the 1930s and ran it as a one-man show; the firm attained a dominant position in the North American liquor industry largely because of his entrepreneurial skills. During the 1960s and 1970s, sons Edgar and Charles sustained Seagram through an era of growing international competition, introducing a more professional system of management. However, at the strategic decision-making level, family members continued to play a crucial role. The second generation's limited changes became apparent during the 1990s, when Edgar Bronfman, Jr., steered the company into a major change of course into the media and entertainment industry, culminating in the disastrous Vivendi merger in 2000. I argue that the critical problem was less Edgar Bronfman, Jr.'s competence than the decision to diversify into a field in which Seagram's organizational capabilities were of limited applicability.

BEH On-Line Paper