MON 22ND OCT 2018


Bringing the family business community together

Will Your Children Follow You?

21st May 2017 Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute Inc

An insight into the need for marketing the family firm to the younger generation as both a career and a rewarding way to involve family in one’s daily life. 

It’s 7:30 p.m. when an obviously tired and frustrated spouse bursts through the door. The children have already eaten, but rush to their father, eager to share their joy that he is finally home. He barely acknowledges them as he puts a big stack of work on the table.

“Rough day,” she asks?

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he replies. “The shipping department failed to get the Osborne job out last night like they were supposed to do, so our number one client threatened to cancel his business with us. I spent half the day trying to calm him down. Our biggest shipper is three days late with parts we need to finish four jobs and one of our trucks broke down 100 miles from here. It was a miserable day.”

If you are one of the children who hear this recitation, how would you feel about the family business? If you grew up hearing similar complaints night after night, how much enthusiasm would you have when your father asked you to come into the family business?

Believe it or not, children of family business owners frequently hear only the frustrations expressed about the business. They seldom hear about the victories and rewards involved in owning and operating a family enterprise. Their parents are often surprised when the kids don’t want to follow in their footsteps, but subconsciously, over an extended period of time, they have sent the message that being in business for yourself is nothing but aggravation and disappointment.

Professor James Lea, in his book Keeping It in the Family, boldly states that the most important marketing job family business owners have is that of marketing the business to the younger generation as both a career and a rewarding way to involve family in one’s daily life. This marketing must begin as soon as the children are capable of understanding. No one suggests trying to force children to come into the business; you can sell too hard. Understand that your business might not be suited for some or all of your offspring.

You must give them room to choose their own career paths, but you can improve the way they view and appreciate your business. Here are some things you can do:

1. Tell them the story of how you (or your predecessors) started the business.
This is something you can do at an early age. Be careful not to overly dramatize the saga, but help them to understand why you (and your spouse, because he/she is involved whether they actively work in the business or not) started the enterprise.

2. Take them to work with you.
Many second generation family business owners have fond memories of going to the business on Saturday mornings when dad would go in to work for a few hours. They had the opportunity to get to know some of the people, learn what the business did and get a flavor for the business. In many instances, the love and passion for the business started with those early visits.

3. Make time to explain to them what you do, who your customers are, and how they use your products or services.
Without boasting, let them know you are proud of the business in which you are engaged and how it benefits others. Tell them success stories.

4. Be careful how you talk about the business.
Some family business owners pride themselves on the fact that they never bring their business home with them. What message does this send to children? How can you ever expect them to know and understand the significance of a family business if you never discuss it with them?

Meal times are good times to have open discussions with your family. Of course, this implies that you will be home for meals. Constantly missing or being late for dinner is a signal that the business takes too much of your time. Even if you have to go back to the office after the children are in bed or bring work home, make it a point not to miss dinner. Although the business might be the consuming interest in your life, make it a point that business not dominate dinnertime discussions. It is fine to work it into conversation, just as you do other activities and interests, but the business should not be the focal point of meals or else meals will be associated with business talk and children will want to avoid them.

It is essential that children know the good and the bad. There’s nothing wrong with letting them know that your business has problems, just like any endeavor. Try not to exaggerate the trials and tribulations. Understand that when young ears hear negatives, they often have no way to put those facts into perspective. Something that might be only a minor inconvenience might sound as if it threatened to keep them from getting the new toy they wanted. Never use the business as a reason why you can’t buy or do something; more importantly, never use it as an excuse for why the children might not be able to get something they want. In short, don’t make the business the 'bad guy.'

Balance your conversations with positives about the business. Tell success stories about awards and recognition received, satisfied customers, and increases in sales or profits. Be careful not to sound boastful or to share too much financial data, as youngsters often tell others what they have heard. Let them know that there are special challenges and rewards to owning your own business, like the feeling of accomplishment, flexibility in scheduling, recognition in the community, and financial rewards.

5. Be careful how your spouse talks about the business.
In many family businesses, the spouse develops some resentment about the tremendous commitment of time and resources taken up by the company. They tire of having the total responsibility of raising children, handling all household affairs and the many other details which go unattended because you are so occupied with the business. That resentment can easily be detected by children. Help your spouse understand that his or her talk can go a long way toward coloring the children’s views about the company.

6. Give your children the chance to work in the business.
This must be an opportunity, not a mandate. Many parents worry that children don’t learn responsibility soon enough and insist that they go to work in the company so they can teach them the value of hard work and how to earn money. There’s nothing wrong with them having chores around the house or even insisting that they get part-time jobs, but don’t force them to come to work in your business.

Give them the opportunity and make it attractive enough that they will enjoy the work. A 10 year old might enjoy helping stuff envelopes for a mailing, counting inventory or other appropriate activity. Make the task age appropriate. Don’t, however give them the jobs nobody else wants, like emptying the trash. Earning a few dollars and enjoying the experience can go a long way toward forming a positive attitude about your business. When compensating them, always pay what the job is worth. Don’t underpay because you can get away with it or overpay because they are family. The sooner it is understood that compensation is based on the value of a job, the better everyone will be.

7. Form a Family Council.
When the children get older (at least teenagers), form a Family Council which deals with interpersonal relations within the business family. This forum can be especially helpful as they begin work and can help establish rules for entry into the business, the manner for resolving conflict, how to learn better communication and co-operation skills, and many other important functions.

If you carefully market your business to your children, you might be pleased to learn they want to follow you in the firm. You cannot force your children to want to come into the business, but you have a large impact on how they view the company. Pay attention to the signals your children receive about your business. Don’t make it too romantic or too difficult. Paint a balanced picture and be willing to let time and your children determine the rest.

About the author:

Wayne Rivers is the president of The Family Business Institute, Inc. FBI’s mission is to deliver interpersonal, operational and financial solutions to help to help family and closely-held businesses achieve breakthrough success.  For more information please visit



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