Breakfast with Fred logoGuest post: Breakfast With Fred Leadership Institute

Let’s consider your going into a family business where you are not one of the family. It can be very comfortable, secure, and also very, very frustrating. If you choose to operate as “one of the family,” it can be pleasant. However, remember the advantages always go to family members first.

If the patriarch who built the business is still active, he generally plans for a son or close relative to carry on when he lets go – if he ever does. No one ever says he has to retire. A friend of mine grew very dissatisfied by working in a family business. Promises were made to him that he would be the next President when the founder retired. It didn’t happen. He spent years counting on that assumption. By the time a change and he wasn’t given the leadership, he was too old to go out and begin again. Consequently, he ended up very frustrated yet very competent.

Another challenge is the family member who is raised with privileges in the business which are not earned, but inherited. This creates an unfair, and certainly unequal, chance for promotions. The other threat is getting cross-wise with members of the extended family. This does not just apply to active members, but all those who feel “deserving” of a voice in decisions. And in-laws can create problems, as well.

I know I have sounded rather dire, but I want you to be realistic about these situations. Certainly, there are some excellent family-owned businesses which expand the leadership roles. These are very good places to work and grow.

A word: any promises or stock, equity positions, or leadership roles should be in writing. If you bring additional expertise which is not available within the family circle you can find a place to contribute and be rewarded. But be wise and protect yourself against the vagaries of family businesses.

This career path will take more patience than you expect. So, don’t go in without financial and emotional reserves. Do your research. Study the history, the board make-up, the mission statement, and the involvement of direct and indirect family members. Understand their expectations. And protect yourself against assumptions which can cause bad feelings and frustrations.

Think about: 1) What would I say to this college student about family businesses? 2) How could I counsel other young men and women about career choices? 3) How did I “find my path?”

Words of Wisdom: “But be wise and protect yourself against the vagaries of family business.”

Wisdom from the Word: “I will walk in the way of integrity. When will you come to me? I will conduct my business with integrity in the midst of my palace.” (Psalm 101:2 NET Bible)

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