Roger Bryan of RCBryan & Associates was once asked his opinion of hiring a child, parent, sibling, uncle, or cousin. His advice? “Don’t do it! When you have the chance to help, you want to. . . However, it's better to leave [family members] at home.”
Despite the many horror stories that support Bryan’s thesis, every day entrepreneurs, solo practitioners, and even CEO’s of large corporations do just the opposite. The results are mixed.
When things go bad in business, they can go very, very bad. A father wants things done the way they were always done; his son wants to innovate. A mother doesn’t want to go into debt; her daughter feels they have to borrow in order to grow. A parent doesn’t think the child has a strong enough work ethic; a child feels there’s more to life than the office grind. One person’s “training” becomes the other’s “criticism”. Disagreements become bitterly personal and resentments simmer on both sides until all hell breaks loose. In the end what’s left are broken families and broken businesses.
Jenna Polchuk (not her real name) had this kind of sad ending to her working relationship with her older daughter, Lindsay. Suddenly widowed at the age of 49, Jenna inherited her husband’s specialty sign business and its 28 employees. Among them was Lindsay, who was the company’s office manager. At first mother and daughter made a great team as Lindsay showed Jenna the ropes and covered for her mother’s rookie mistakes. But Jenna came to resent the fact that she was putting in longer hours than her daughter and longer hours than she, herself, wanted. Moreover, Lindsay was resisting Jenna’s urgings to do more on the creative side, which was the lifeblood of their business.
After seven years Jenna wanted out. She was tempted to sell the company, but Lindsay begged her not to. With a new husband and new life in front of her, Jenna finally made an outright gift of the company to her daughter. Alas, Lindsay couldn’t make a go of it and eventually declared bankruptcy. She didn’t speak to Jenna for five years after that, angry with her mother for not staying on and helping her. “I don’t feel any guilt,” Jenna says now, “but if I had to do it over again, I would have sold her the business not given it
Fortunately, other parent/child working situations turn out much better. Peter Greenberg encouraged Stefan, the youngest of his three sons, to come into the insurance company where Peter was an agent. Peter chose not to train Stefan himself. “It probably cost me money,” he says, “but we have a terrific relationship in and out of the office, and he’s much better at this than I am. It probably helps that we work on different floors and have different lines of business. Where we intersect is by cross-referring, going on a few pitches together and sharing some business. At family gatherings the Greenbergs make it a point never to talk business. “When I retire or are on my way to heaven, whichever comes first,” says Peter, “whatever I’ve built up will be his.”
Another success story is the real estate team of Regina and David Magid. Five years ago Regina brought in her younger son as her assistant and now he’s her junior partner with an increasingly larger split. Both feel her one-on-one coaching has been invaluable. “How else could you have such an experienced, knowledgeable professional mentoring you 24/7?” says David. “And she’s taught me how to work with someone whose personality is different from my own.”
To smooth out those differences, every month the Magids have The Conversation, where they agree not to interrupt each other. “It doesn’t always work,” says Regina. “We may have to take a time out.” They also have different working styles. “I want us to “cc” each other on all emails, texts, and written communications,” she says, “but sometimes David forgets.” Nevertheless, Regina considers working with her son a great boon. “Real estate is stressful and there’s a lot of competition. We support each other.” As for David, he laughs that sometimes his mother expects him to do son-like chores, such as taking out the garbage, but that’s far outweighed by her leadership. “Instead of giving me a fish, she gave me a pole and taught me how to use it,” he says. “That is her legacy.”
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