I have the privilege of knowing the leaders of many successful family businesses; I have also been one myself. Passing down the leadership of a successful company can be a great opportunity for the next generation, and I’m glad I got a chance to work with and get to know my father in that way. But family businesses do not always work out well. Lines can get blurred, and sometimes people go to extremes, pushing children into or out of the business. A lot of people are understandably reluctant to mix family with work. I simply suggest that you take the time to discuss and consider all the issues before making your decision.
My father initially discouraged me from joining his company. He saw that I was finding success on my own and knew I could continue doing so. Many parents take the position that a family business is not an option—they feel that each generation should start from scratch and find its own way. Even those who want to give it a try find that family complicates business leadership. How do you instill a strong work ethic, pride of accomplishment, and self-sufficiency in future generations? How do you negotiate the boundaries between the professional and personal relationships? What do you do if the offspring you want to join the family business do not want to? What happens if the eager family member can’t or won’t do a good job? Is the business really a family asset to financially support current and future generations or is it simply your job?
Those who are ready to seriously address all these questions and more will be able to help their offspring avoid substantial startup risk. Joining a family business may allow the next generation to have more influence on their work schedules, location, and the team that they work with. But it isn’t an easy path. Based on my experience, it often means working harder and longer that you would in any other company–for me, working with my father meant a lot of time spent in airplanes and hotel rooms. For a family business to be successful, the next generation must have the determination and sheer willpower to forge ahead—and the current generation will have to figure out how to pass on their institutional knowledge and business savvy. Together the family must find ways to maintain those characteristics that make the business a success while managing the changes that new leadership and new challenges will require going into the future.
Transitioning the family business to the next generation is a gift. The family business can create opportunities and carve out destinies. It can result in pride of authorship through creating and selling a product or service that makes a difference. It allows you to stand up for what you believe in and lead through example. It allows you to have a positive impact on yourself, your family, your team, your community and those around you. 91% of all American work for someone else—but the family business can provide your children a fast lane into the 9% that lead others. This gift is not about joining a country club or getting things handed to you. It is about hard work, integrity, responsibility, and about making decisions that can impact hundreds of lives.
I would submit that building on the success of the current generation’s business and using it as a spring board may be the harder option, but can result in greater opportunity and accomplishment. Neither generation should dismiss this opportunity. It is a viable option that can positively impact all involved.