None of the press coverage of the train wreck that Demoulas Supermarkets currently presents is grounded in a professional understanding of what makes family controlled enterprises, especially large growth companies controlled by families, thrive — or — in the alternative, self destruct quickly or wither slowly on the vine. Much of the coverage reflects the inexorable migration of news toward opinion, and that which passes for news coverage oversimplifies this case into a search for a “Good” Arthur versus a “Bad” Arthur, as if identifying a villain will in any way facilitate a resolution of this saga.

Occasionally the news coverage veers into wonderment about why both executives and rank and file workers alike, employed by a private, non-union company, would stop work to picket the company in order to urge the return of the Arthur who was CEO, and whom, it seems, was fired on instructions from the other Arthur, a member [but not Chairman] of the Company’s board of directors. I have yet to read, hear, or see any reporting, much less analysis, which speaks to or on behalf of the enterprise itself and all its stakeholders comprehensively. Where does one go to find answers to the question: How is it that a truly great company, consistently ranked as an elite performer in its industry on many metrics, but especially on the metric of customer satisfaction, has been brought to its knees against the wishes of not only many shareholders, but also its employees, at least some members of its board of directors, all its vendors, and most importantly, its most precious resource and the basis of shareholder value — its customers?

The answer lies not in what the combatant members of the family shareholder group are doing to each other in the courts and in the media, but rather in the study of why they do what they do. The current panoply of owners has for decades been waging war in the courts and in the media over the actions of one member of the second generation of the Demoulas family that a court found, after a dreadfully contentious and odiferous series of lawsuits, harmed other members of the family. The current leader of the third generation of the side of the family that was harmed is Arthur S. Demoulas, a member of the board of directors. The recently terminated CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, who by virtually all accounts has become, during the course of his career, a brilliantly successful CEO of a ferocious competitor in a very, very competitive industry, carries the weight of being the son of the Demoulas family member whom the courts found responsible for the harm caused Arthur S.’ side of the family.

What we are witnessing then, is nothing more and nothing less, than the second generation of a bloody family feud, acted out on the stage of the Demoulas’ family controlled supermarket company. It is actually not about the business per se at all, which is why a purely business solution such as sale, or resorting to the legal equivalent of trench warfare, 100 years after World War I began, solves nothing. The owners are at war, essentially oblivious to the damage the war has caused and continues to cause to all the stakeholders of the Company other than the two camps of family shareholders. The Company has been reduced to theatre. This outcome occurs often in the world of family enterprise, usually not in so public a manner, but often in as vituperative a battle. The current family owners are absorbed completely in resolving decades old family disputes in the courts as if, like a divorce, issuance of a court verdict could erase the scars of the past and assuage everyone’s current pain. A court of law is not where this dispute will be resolved in 2014 any more than it was in the 1990’s.

Nor is the marketplace for the purchase and sale of companies the locus for resolution. Sale of the company at this time to the highest bidder, likely a private equity firm or a supermarket industry competitor, may appear to be an obvious quick fix, but this illusion is NOT a real solution. The “sell the company” solution will leave the shareholders awash in cash, but simultaneously leave all the other stakeholders [and ultimately even the two Arthurs and their kinfolk] mortally wounded. A sale at this time will be at a depressed price, basically premised on a market value of carrion to vultures, as opposed to the value of the masterpiece painting the Company had become, to an educated collector. There is a solution to this puzzle, but it does not begin with the assumption that a quick sale will bring resolution. Though it may make selling shareholders and the advisors to both sides richer, a sale at this time would irreparably harm all existing stakeholders. The Demoulas family enterprise odyssey does not have to end this way. Resolution of this saga begins with an understanding of what is really happening.

But first, it is time for a legal cease fire. In an era of declining demand and excessive supply of even the highest level of legal talent, the prospect of litigating a feud like this saga, financed by clients with bottomless deep pockets – and even deeper wounds – stimulates dreams of record bonuses in law firms across the region. At the outset, let’s take away the lawyers’ Viagra, but not shoot them all. Ultimately they are necessary, but not sufficient participants in the resolution of the corporate impact of this family borne crisis. However, as the earlier round of litigation demonstrated, obtaining a court decree about Demoulas family ownership of this supermarket business, and related assets, does not heal the hole in anyone’s heart; does not enhance the competitive strength of the Company; and does not ultimately resolve anything with finality. Resolving this case through litigation is akin to ending the Shia-Sunni dispute in Iraq by following the Dick Cheney model of conflict resolution. We can all see how well that has turned out, as well as the dreadful cost in lives and treasure.

And while we are removing professionals whose work often adds fuel to the fire in the guise of endeavors to resolve this matter, let’s ask the public relations firms to stand down from manipulating the media to ensure their clients appear to be best suited for a white hat and not a black one. Their work on both sides of this case may not be arson, but it is inflammatory. In sum, it would be useful to recognize that professional service providers ought not offer their services when the service they offer is not the solution. To borrow a line from a famous Greek professional let the mantra be: [f]irst do no harm”.

The pain in this case begins in the family across three generations, and there will be no alternative to mutually assured destruction without recognizing this reality and going back to basics by endeavoring to understand the sources of the extended family’s pain and what, if anything can be done about it. And that means going back past the wrongdoings that have already been litigated to the founding of the enterprise by the first generation of the founding family.

Some entrepreneurs become, during their lifetimes, CEO’s of large and growing companies rooted in their vision, inspired by their passion, and led with skill and vigor by the management teams they create. But the next time that I meet a CEO –either female or male–who also fills the other CEO role, the Chief Emotional Officer of the family that controls a company, it will be the first time. My experience over three decades has been that finding someone who is both Chief Executive Officer of the business and Chief Emotional Officer of the family is like finding Bigfoot – mostly a rumor and rarely a reality. In truth most CEO’s are dramatically more effective as managers than as parents, spouses, or siblings, not out of a lack of intent to commit to family, but because their careers consume the vast preponderance of their emotional energy. Add to this reality the near total absence of professionals trained in family systems in the cadres of advisors to family controlled growth companies, and one typically finds a scenario akin to the blind leading the blind.

The reader should not infer from this essay that what is being recommended as solution is for all members of family business shareholder control groups, their management teams, and their boards of directors is to go into family therapy or sit around a camp fire and sing Kumbaya. Rather, what is being advocated is for those involved in imminent or ongoing family feuds to consider that fury at other family members, either in its inchoate form or acted out in open warfare, is essentially a form of intimacy: Not a pleasant form of intimacy, but sometimes the only form of intimacy an individual can muster or sustain. How to convert the heat of battle into a light that can guide members of a family shareholder control group to a common goal is not a matter for which competent, combat trained lawyers, or media mavens should be selected to serve as guide. Sacajawea in this setting may have a law or communications degree, but that is not the only credential required. Before the swords are drawn, before a great company becomes a shell of itself after it has been eviscerated by an opportunistic buyer, before tens of thousands of employees at all levels who have given loyal and effective service to the enterprise and its customers are sacrificed, the owners have an unwaivable duty to step away from their need for retribution and towards a respect for all the stakeholders of the company they control.

At a minimum, the directors of the company need to retain professionals who can offer counsel in two languages: the language of family AND the languages of business and law; so that capable professionals for this special challenge can teach the families and the other advisors to the combatants that carpet bombing and selling at distressed prices are not the only available alternative resolutions. Optimally, such an advisory firm would be comprised of multi-disciplinary professionals, who could, if you will, write poetry in the language of either family or business, while at the same time, at a minimum, read the news in the language of the other.

Recognizing the power of the family to create conflict is a common skill. What is far more difficult for the weary combatants and their phalanxes of advisors is to understand that in many cases the power of the family can also generate the thrust needed for healing. What is required is for someone in the system to understand and an advisor group with the appropriate combination of skills to lead this launch process. There is ample literature, both academic and practical, to illustrate and buttress this point. But it is totally missing, not only from law and business school curricula, but also from continuing professional education. Such skilled people who can understand the language of families, often spoken in dialect, and who can translate what was heard into the languages of business and law exist, and can be part of a solution.

Many companies have benefitted from retaining such advisors. Many others have relied on advisors with such skills prior to the outbreak of hostilities to great positive effect. But practically and ethically, like therapists, these advisors cannot sell their services. The bottom line is that owners of family controlled enterprises mired, or about to be mired, in conflict, and their long term advisors have to want to seek light more than heat. If they do, companies like the Demoulas Supermarkets embroiled in rage and passionate conflict have a much greater chance of not only surviving, but ultimately thriving.