When You’ve Been Asked to Join the Family Business

It’s the conversation some of us dream of – and some of us dread:

Mother: Jon, Dad and I have been talking, and we’re really hoping that you’ll join us in the family business.

Father: This is one of my greatest dreams come true! So, what do you think, son?

Jon: Well, I did work in the store summers and school vacations, so it’s sort of what I always expected. It’s just that I’ve got some concerns, and I guess I’d like to think about it some more…”

And, as Jon thinks a bit further: “My dad says this is ‘one of his greatest dreams.’ That makes me feel wanted, alright, but it also puts pressure on me, like I’d be letting him down if I said ‘no.’”

  1. To join or not to join…
  • Jon’s instincts are correct. He does need time to reflect a bit, to assess his own skills, examine his career and personal goals, family relationships and communication styles, and explore other options.
  • Jon might want to clarify any unstated “expectations” with other family members to avoid ambiguity and inappropriate assumptions so that his role and responsibilities in the business are clear.
  • Jon and his dad need to talk about his dad’s expectations, too. While Jon may decide to join the family business, he surely does not want to build a career out of guilt for fear of letting his dad down.
  • Maybe there are other young people in business with their families with whom Jon could speak. Participation in local trade associations provides a natural networking and support opportunity for young recruits.
  1. Once a decision to enter the family business has been made…
  • We’d urge Jon to spend at least a couple of years working elsewhere before joining the family business. This will give him the much-needed chance to make some mistakes in a more objective setting, earn some promotions and report to different bosses. He will bring even greater knowledge, experience, and a personal sense of achievement into the family firm.
  • When Jon does enter the family business, we encourage him to expect a competitive salary, one that would be paid to a non-family employee performing in a similar capacity. Why? Because less is unfair and more, too soon in his career, could tie him to a job he might neither like nor be suited for, but could not afford to leave.
  • When it comes to a boss, we suggest that Jon report to someone other than a family member for a while. This will help provide him with more objective feedback and evaluation. It will also help distance the ‘family emotions’ from the ‘business criticism.’

When it comes to the decision to enter the family enterprise, clear communications – about feelings, expectations, and responsibilities – can head off a host of problems and misunderstandings down the line.



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