Ideas & Stories

Bringing your kids into the business

It is easy to bring your children “into” the business. Most family businesses start this by simply employing their kids often while they are on school holidays.  But what about employing them for a lifetime career?  Without a strategy and a good deal of effort by the parents, the child is more likely to fail than almost any other employee in the business!

Let’s start with a real example – Mr ‘X’ had two children.  Mr X had a very successful business and loved his life as a divorcee.  Both kids had entered the business on and off during their early twenties, mostly between stints of university, travelling and having a good time.  Neither child had worked for another employer nor was particularly motivated to get ahead.  By the time we became involved, both children had a serious attitude problem, everyone at work tolerated their lazy ways, even dad.  They were unmotivated and lacked any sense of direction and purpose.  Neither parent had any idea of how to help their kids.  That was ten years ago.

It’s a pity we could not have become involved earlier.  Preferably before they even started working for dad.  The importance of getting a career strategy early would have helped avoid the traps and pitfalls that lie ahead and potentially build the self confidence, respect, motivation, self worth, abilities and work ethic of these already challenged teenagers.

There are well known ‘rules’ about employing family members.  They cover; education expectations, working elsewhere before joining, starting at the bottom, perceptions by workmates, gaining experience throughout the business, promotion, further education, specialist coaching and behaviour, reward and punishment.  These form the basis of a career plan and its ongoing implementation.  Get it right and the next generation are more certain to develop and grow into the future custodians of the business and family wealth.

What became of the case study above?

We told our business owner, client Mr X about the (probably) fictitious story of the businessman who calls his son into his office.  In the story, Dad is wearing a cap with the word “boss” written on it.  Son sits down to hear “Peter, I have given you due warning about your performance at work, you are fired!”  The son is taken back at the abrupt nature of his dismissal.

Next, dad reaches into a draw of his desk.  He pulls out a different cap.  It says the word “dad”.  He puts this cap on and leans over his desk and says caringly “Son, I heard you were fired today, how I can help you?”

The story was really an expression of the need to separate business and family but our client Mr X took it very seriously.  He had two caps made up and sacked his son exactly like in the story!  We were not surprised at his level of frustration.

We helped our business owner client by helping him understand why the kids had failed, and what his role had been in this.  Both left the family business at nearly 30 years of age and started life afresh, but still with the caring hand of dad.  It wasn’t easy and not perfect, even now.  But it is certainly a lot better. Maybe one day, they will be ready to return.

Imagine if that planning had been undertaken earlier?  Mr X may have been able to bring these kids “through” not merely “into” his business.