Luis Barragan, president of 1-800-Mattress and the son of founder and CEO Napoleon Barragan, died Saturday. He drowned accidentally in a lake while on vacation with his family in Connecticut. He was 34.
I didn't have the pleasure of meeting Luis when I interviewed Napoleon for Inc.'s July feature on bootstrapping, but, having spent his entire professional career with the company, Luis was his father's obvious successor. (He was also the only one of Napoleon's children involved with the business on a day-to-day basis). In a statement released shortly after the accident, Napoleon credited his son with helping him transform the company from a regional mattress seller to a national brand. "Through his energy, intelligence and commitment to our brand, he made a tremendous contribution to our company and our employees. He was a loving, caring father, brother and son who will be sorely missed," Napoleon said.
Amid renewed debate in Congress over the estate tax, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that family businesses can sometimes be faced with much more serious succession issues than basic estate planning. Entrepreneurs like Napoleon take pride in their ability to deal positively with the challenges of business. But what happens when business challenges transcend business itself? It's a difficult question—and certainly an unpleasant one—but one worth thinking about.