Do you know someone whose family has a lucrative business, but they are employed at another company? When you look at them do you wonder why they slave at the other company instead of getting into the family business? Or why they choose to register their success and skills set elsewhere instead of bringing it into the family business? Have they ever given you a satisfactory response to your curiosity about their chosen work model? As you interact with this article, spend some time thinking about that person, even if it is you.

Many family businesses we are seeing today have gone through transformations, hitting highs and lows whose impact would make for a high value documentary. Over time, the founders left the business to their heirs and so we probably have 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations running these outfits today. Some of these businesses were started while most people were toddlers and they have come to an age of maturity where they can take up the mantle from their parents but are not doing so. In their current work life, these individuals are mid and high-profile executives for various companies. Some may be earning some substantial salaries with good perks, others may just be enduring for the sake of the job title and the accompanying prestige even though they have a wonderful opportunity to grow their family businesses and derive even greater satisfaction from the work of their hands.

So why would one would be moonlighting at another organization while their skills would be pivotal in projecting their family businesses into a higher level of success?

Family issues. Different personalities come to play where family decisions need to be made and when you toss in the aspect of commercial business the personalities take another spin that is more often ugly than it is admirable. We have family members who have not been interested in the business and out of the blues think they can run it best, there are some who simply like the money that comes to them as shareholders, but they don’t really care what you do with the business.

One’s dreams. When the family business is not in line with one’s dreams it is very likely for that person to pursue what they are more interested in than what the whole family wants. For example, a doctor would rather pursue his career in medicine rather than spend time learning and growing their family trucking business. You can also have a career designer not being interested in being part of the family law firm. All this because they have settled it in their hearts that their dreams are greater than their family business.

Lack of vision. The future of any business greatly relies on the vision carrier. If the owner or current management has no vision, then it is likely that the business will not go far and those who would add value to it would easily ignore the business because they don’t see a lot of potential in it, so they do not want to spend their time and energy there. On the flip side of this coin is the situation that one might not see the vision and potential until they are in it.

Preference for perks and benefits. Unless the family business is a multi-million or billion currency business, it is near impossible to enjoy the perks and benefits that come with being employed in other organizations. In the family business, it is likely that the company car that delivers to customers is the same one that one uses to go home and take the kids to school, while in a corporate, the car is exclusive. The ‘candy’ that organizations use to keep good talent are many and create an invisible blindfold. Only after retirement does one see them for what they are – bait to keep you in the business for as long as possible for you to give the best of your years.

Lack of interest. This is evident by how much time one spends on the family business. It could also be expressed by how the current family management include one in the business.

Making a success of your family business

Getting into the family business is a life decision that one needs to make with sobriety based on information and purpose of heart. Some of the considerations and decisions that one can make in the process of engaging in family business are explained herein. Have a business plan. This will contain your vision, mission and strategy and it must be prepared in consultation with all stakeholders including other family members, staff and even advisors (financial) if present. A business plan is dynamic, and it must be updated with every milestone reached. It is a working document for every business because it helps to identify if the business is on track and it helps to build a road map for the future. Even if the business is a partnership of husband and wife, once it begins to impact on customers, the business assumes a life of its own and must therefore have a guide to sustain it. That guide is the business plan.

Hire the right people. If one is still reluctant to join the family business for one reason or another, one of the solutions to explore is that of hiring the right crop of people to run the business. Stemming from the concept that you don’t have to be a doctor to own a hospital, if the family business can be run by someone else under your payroll, then it is a good option to consider. One will only need to have regular planning and review meetings with the core team to ensure smooth operations.

Learn and apply. Do not be afraid to borrow the right management concepts from the more established businesses in the corporate world. When you consider the success of multinationals and local big corporates, their success is driven by various business principles such as having the right workforce, training people, setting periodic goals (e.g. 3 and 5 years plans), merging with others and being acquired in a win-win deal, franchising and so much more. Learning is a continuous process and the learnings can be applied according to the type and level of business that one is engaging in. Identify which lessons are beneficial and apply them. Frequent monitoring and evaluation. It is in having frequent reviews with the rest of the family and employees about the business that one gets to know what is happening and how to make it better. Participate actively in such meetings whether you are interested in the business or not and also whether you are actively involved in the daily operations or not. Ideas cannot be monopolized and some of the greatest strides in business have been made from the simplest of ideas.

Keep business out of the family room. Nothing is as disruptive in a family as business discussed when it should not be. Animosity, disagreements and divided opinions should not be brought to the family setting during things like family get-together parties. Let board room discussions remain so. This is because it is the family fabric and unity that sustains the unity at the office and if boundaries are crossed that should not be then there is no safe haven for people to retract to. Businesses run by husband and wife are most successful if each of the partners knows and experiences peace at home away from the havoc. Is this possible? Yes, it is. It takes determination and conscious effort not to bring up business subjects when in the home setting.

Believe. Believe that it will work hence leaving a great legacy.

For more insights to help with the push and pull of entrepreneurship vs. employment we recommend the book The Family Business Succession Handbook by Barbara Spector

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