• Service: Enterprise, Family business
  • Type: Business and industry issue
  • Date: 10/2/2012

Inheriting the family firm – and earning it 

Inheriting the family firm

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

Looking forward to a comfortable job in the family business? It might be tempting to rest on your laurels and cruise through life, but that’s not going to earn the respect of your co-workers, or ensure the continued success of the family enterprise.

If you’re serious about taking over when the time comes, you need to ensure you have the credentials to back up the family name. Here’s how you can gain the competence you need to succeed as the heir of the family business…

Strike out on your own

It’s important to establish yourself as an individual, expert, and entrepreneur in your own right. Not only does this earn the respect of others, but creating and establishing an identity separate to the one you have because of your family name instills a sense of self-confidence and pride in your own abilities.

If you have to, leave the family nest to work elsewhere, or insist on starting in a low-level position in a separate division. Not only will you gain valuable work experience, but you – and everyone else – will learn what you’re capable of achieving under your own steam and that you’re capable of standing on your own two feet.

Don’t rely on your name to get by

There’s no substitute for hard work, so they say. Using the family name to gain advantage may be enticing, but if you wish to be taken seriously in business, the sooner you learn the value of independence and a sound work ethic, the better.

Conduct yourself professionally – be productive, work efficiently and effectively, and treat others as you would be treated. Make a commitment to ethics and integrity, and work to be the best in your field.

Don’t see the business as a safety net

If you want your family and everyone in the business to take you seriously, you need to take it seriously. Don’t use the company as your back-up option, in case you fail elsewhere. Before returning to work in the business, ensure that you have successfully achieved something of real value in another area – for example, successfully establishing your own business, or becoming an expert in a profession or trade.

Develop your technical competencies

How much do you know about the technical side of the business? Often, family business founders are far stronger on technical competencies than subsequent generations, and this can fell a family enterprise.

If your skills basis is more academic in nature, it won’t hurt to spend time learning about the technicalities that the job requires, for example, production processes (how your products are actually made).

Command respect, don’t demand respect

Treating your family’s small business like it’s your birthright will only help you come across as arrogant and entitled, and nothing promotes mutiny in the ranks faster than a leader who abuses his or her power and position.

The great leaders in history all have one thing in common – respecting the power and opinions of others. How you conduct yourself – your attitudes and your actions – forms others’ opinions of you. It’s a cliché, but respect your co-workers, and they’ll respect you.

Listen and learn

You may have a degree from a world-class university, but others who have worked in the firm for years may still know more about the business and how it works than you, and could have a great deal of value to teach you … if you’d listen. Before making the sweeping changes you’re itching to do, be sure to listen, observe, and absorb every aspect of the business. Then, share your own knowledge; reflect on what you have seen and learned elsewhere and, with your co-workers’ participation, explore ways in which that knowledge might be put to good use in the business.

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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