In 1985 I was a young, straight-commissioned salesman in our 65-year-old office furniture business. We had a hot new product and I was positioned to have a great year selling it.
Uncle Tim called me into his office and informed me he was hiring an additional salesperson and splitting my territory in half. I was really angry and hurt. He went on to explain, “The company has a good opportunity (with the new product) and we need to make hay while the sun shines.”
I learned a hard, yet valuable lesson. We were a “business first” not “family first” family business. In other words, standing at the crossroads of what’s best for the business or what’s best for one person in the business — we would err to the side of the business.
At the time it was a tough pill to swallow. I had to go home with my tail between my legs and tell my wife what was happening. She too was not happy with the decision.
Years later I understood the reasoning. It was in the family’s best interest to protect and grow the business’s overall strength and profitability. That was what was best for everyone — the extended family and the 100+ loyal, dedicated employees.
I wonder how that philosophy fits with today’s generation joining their family businesses. In the Rotary Club they call it “Service Above Self.”
Great family business leaders instill this idea in the family at an early age. The family business is a noble endeavor, an opportunity bigger than any one family member or generation. The business should be treated with prudent and disciplined decision-making — not viewed as an ATM to support the family’s lifestyle.
Too often I see younger generations who are compensated above their real market value. This is a disservice to the business and the individual and can be a set up for disaster.
Instill upon your family the idea of service above self for the good of the larger picture. Yes, in a well run, successful business participants should be able to enjoy nice financial reward for a job well done.
In the long run, a family that is connected to long-term values and success will create a healthier, happier family.
My dissatisfaction at Uncle Tim’s decision to cut my territory drove my motivation to sell more to make the most of the opportunity — and show up the new salesperson. I also learned a great long-range lesson about the business.
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Coach in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.