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  • Service: Enterprise, Family business
  • Type: Business and industry issue
  • Date: 9/26/2012

Coming to terms with the family business founder 

Coming to terms

The challenges faced by second-generation family business heirs: Part One

Do you work in your family’s business? Perhaps you thought it would be easier to succeed and progress in the family firm, than it would be in a corporation with which you have no historical ties? Perhaps it was your dream to work alongside the family business founder, be it your mother or father, or even an uncle. Unfortunately, however, working alongside family brings its own set of challenges.


Easily the most difficult challenge for the next generation is coming to terms with the founder of the family business. Second-generation heirs often inherit these issues along with the company…

The family business founder came from nothing

How often have you heard the story about how your family’s thriving enterprise was developed from next-to-nothing? You, on the other hand, came from a place of privilege – getting everything that the founders didn’t have as a child. It’s not unusual for business founders to frequently remind their heirs of this fact – or for other non-family employees to point it out at every opportunity.


How do you deal with this? The best reaction is none at all – rather being gracious and show gratitude. Thank them for enabling you to receive the best education that money could buy, or for feeding and clothing you, or for affording you all the opportunities that it took for you to get to this point. Let envious non-family members know that you intend to honor the business’ legacy.

The founder or CEO is larger-than-life

To do well in life and build up a family empire takes a person with a big personality. Sometimes the family business owner probably had to be bossy, domineering, determined, or stubborn to get the business to where it needed to be. Now, that grit, determination, and stubbornness which helped the business succeed are what you find yourself up against when you want to make your own mark.


How do you deal with this? When you find yourself frustrated no end, wanting nothing more than to quit the family business, try eating a slice of humble pie. Give the founder credit for being so passionate and energetic about their business. Consider how you’d react if the roles were reversed – it’s their company and they have the right to want things done their way, no matter how you feel or what you may think about it.


Exercise patience – the family business founder is king, and you’re merely the understudy … for now. Your time will come. As heir, your role is to support the founder until they are ready to hand over the reins to you.

They don’t take you seriously

Despite the fact that you’re an adult with an education, work experience, and valuable ideas to contribute, they may still see you as their child with a lot of growing up to do. They may love and cherish you dearly, but they refuse to acknowledge that you’re a mature adult with a real contribution to make to the family business.


How do you deal with this? You may need time away from the family to blaze your own trail. This may mean leaving the family company and moving away for a time to work elsewhere, or asking your supervisor to assign you duties at a lower level in the business where you can work your way up, legitimately.


Stepping away from the family business can help you thrive as an entrepreneur in your own right, and most likely earn you respect from other employees within the company.

The business founder treats you more harshly

In an effort to prove everyone is treated equally and you as the heir have no special favors, the founder may actually come down harder on you than on non-family employees.


How do you deal with this? See it as a compliment – this is a test of your mettle to see what you’re made of. Rather than let resentment, anger, or frustration eat away at you, rise to the challenge. Remember, nobody said life was easy and you were entitled to a free meal ticket. Jumping through hoops to prove you are worthy will not only win the head of your family business over, but dubious non-family employees, too.


In the next few posts, I’ll be looking at the challenges faced by the next generation – the heirs that inherit the business, and the legacy of the founder. What are the challenges you’ve faced?

Christophe Bernard

Christophe Bernard
I am a KPMG partner based in the French firm’s Paris office, responsible for encouraging the growth of our firms’ middle markets practice across Europe, Middle East and Africa, a majority of that market comprises of family businesses.
 

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