The Truth about Family Businesses

I received such a wonderful response to my first blog that I am both ecstatic and terrified of continuing on this blogging journey. I find that I now have stage fright. Or performance anxiety. Possibly both. But I had an opportunity to hear a few really inspiring stories from women who related to my story and that makes me want to blog like crazy in spite of myself!

The Truth about Family Businesses 

One of the comments I received was from a young woman who talked about some of the challenges of being the soon-to-be third generation owner of the HVAC business her grandfather started more than 35 years ago. And it got me thinking about the challenges and misconceptions about family businesses in general.

Big Shoes to Fill
When you own a family business, you start each workday with the fear that you will break (or worse, bend beyond recognition) the company that your Dad spent years building.

In some ways, “inheriting” a family business is a huge leg up in the business world. Someone literally HANDS you a ready-made company, pats you on the head and says, “OK, now don’t screw it up!” What an enormous head start! You don’t have to build your customer base, you don’t have to hire all new employees and you’ve already got systems in place to run the business. Piece of cake, right?

Oh if it were only that easy! In reality, your ready-made customers don’t know you. They know your Dad, Grampa or your fill-in-the-blank family member. You have to work very hard to overcome your image as “the kid”. Many of the existing employees think you are a massively undeserving spoiled brat who just got a business handed to you on a platter (which is not exactly untrue, no matter how many years you’ve already put in). Both your customers and your employees will forever be comparing you to your family member – almost never favorably – with almost no regard to the actual reality that their rose-colored recollections may have left out.

And lastly, the dreaded established business procedures. I am a big fan of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school. But, who decides what’s broken? You are the new guy. Your Dad, Grampa, and all of your veteran employees all believe with every fiber of their beings that they know THE WAY to do things. THE WAY – all caps, underlined. So what happens when you have different ideas/priorities/visions for your company. The company that they – if they are the kind of employees that you want them to be – all think of as their company. See? Not so easy. (By the way, if anyone figures this one out, please, I beg you, call/email/send me a pigeon and I will be forever grateful.)

On top of all those challenges, you will also have to find a way to diplomatically phase out your revered family member with hour and salary reductions (I’m sorry Mom. He’s retiring. It has to happen!). And start every workday with the fear that you will break (or worse, bend beyond recognition) the company that your Dad spent years building.

So, the next time you resent the good fortune of a second, third, or whatever generation family-business owner, please keep in mind that it’s not as easy as it sounds!

I will be sharing a couple of tips on dealing with family business stress in some future posts and I very much hope that some of you will share with me YOUR stories as well.