I was coaching a very successful entrepreneur last week, the head of a thriving 80 person firm. I asked him if it was part of his dream to have his children come work in the business. I was a little surprised yet appreciated his quick, frank answer.
He said “Hell no! When I was in college I had a few of my buddies that we’re great guys and ultimately decided to go work in their family business and every one of them became toads. I don’t want that to happen to my children. They need to go out and make their own lives for themselves!”
I’m not exactly sure what he meant by toads but I got the gist of it. He meant they became people who were not great people. I actually looked it up in the urban dictionary and found lots of derogatory meanings for toads.
The point is here was a super sharp guy who had come to the conclusion:
Sometimes talented, capable people who are handed their family business can
- Lose their competitive edge
- Become complacent
- Lose touch with what it means to be passionate and go make your mark in the world
- Become less then they could have become had they not taken (or be given) the easy road
Of course there’s a flipside to every story. I see some people who work in their family businesses and become perhaps more than they would’ve become outside the family business. But more often I do see people who have an inflated sense of self-worth and stature artificially due to their family business inheritance.
At the end of the day I want to help people reach their potential and I want to help family businesses reach their full potential. Fulfilling that mission will make the world a better place.
I really believe every family business owes it to their family members and their business to make their family members go out and work somewhere else and make their own mark in the world before coming to work in the family business. Of course every families situation is unique.
In my own situation my talented daughter, Laura, started on her own career path, hit a bump in the road and then asked if she could come work for me (she had worked for me while in high school).
I told Laura she could come back to work for me for as long as it took for her to retool and find another job that would allow her to build her professional resume and personal portfolio. She wasn’t entirely happy with that answer and honestly I was tempted with the idea of getting to spend more time with my 24-year-old daughter.
But the bottom line was I knew she was mature enough and ready to be the best employee I could have and I knew she needed to go out and see what it was like to compete out in the world with lots of other 24-year-olds.
Another quick client story. Working with a 45-year-old successful fourth-generation business owner he said to me in a moment of reflection “I’ve always thought and wondered about what I could have become had I not just gone immediately into my family business”
That was a big moment that really can hit me right in the heart. I could see how it was a nagging “what if” for him.
Laura came back to work with me for six months and eventually found a job with a great employer doing interesting work that will provide her a great opportunity to build a professional identity, confidence and get the feeling of success outside of the shadow of her father and family.
I know this is one of the most difficult challenges all family business parents face.
The decision of having your child come work in the business to:
- Get to spend more time with them
- Not having to worry about whether or not they’ll ever come back and be interested in the family business
- Providing them the warmth and security of not having to deal with difficult bosses and competitive situations in the business world
But truthfully, not giving them the opportunity to go out and have all of that could be a recipe for contributing to them “becoming a toad”. None of us want our kids to become toads!
We work with families to help them create a well-thought-out family employment policy that clearly states the how and why of family members working outside the business for a minimum period of time before they make the family business there full-time career.
I think it’s an important thing to do. I also think it’s going to be really interesting when my client’s kids go out and become very successful elsewhere and he suddenly sees them as potential candidates for his succession and exit strategy. I love that part of the journey too!
You can do this!