• Service: Enterprise, Family business
  • Type: Business and industry issue
  • Date: 10/4/2012

Making your own mark as the next-gen heir 

Making your own mark

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

When you join the family-owned business, people will most likely already have formed opinions about you – you may be labelled Joe Soap’s son or daughter, rather than an individual, entrepreneur, or expert in your own right.

It can be difficult to move on from these preconceptions, but move on you must if you want to succeed. Developing legitimacy is about finding your own identity. Follow these five steps to make your own mark in the business…

Step One – Start somewhere else

Going straight to work in the family business after school or university can be detrimental to your career there. Rather, work elsewhere for at least five to ten years, advises Mark Albion, entrepreneur and author of Making a Life, Making a Living.

Growing up around the founder of the family enterprise, you’ve no doubt been immersed in the business and how things are done there. Working in another environment, you can gain valuable perspective and business experience, which you can later bring in and apply to your family’s firm.

Step Two – Work hard

Don’t expect anything to be handed to you on a silver platter just because you’re next in line to inherit the business – work hard. Your actions, attitude, and work ethic should discourage others from dismissing you with a ‘they got the job because they share the same DNA’.

Showing you’ve inherited the founder’s work ethic, and not just their fortune, will earn you respect from co-workers, colleagues, clients, and the founder. To cultivate a strong work ethic, make sure you:

  • Show up on time
  • Take pride in the quality of your work
  • Go the extra mile to get things done.

Step Three – Spend money wisely

Stories abound of heirs who have spent all of the family fortune in a matter of years – there was George Huntington, heir to The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, who blew his entire US $90 million inheritance on failed business ventures and artistic projects, and Barbara Hutton, the Woolworths heiress who squandered US $42 million on her lavish lifestyle.

Exercising financial responsibility will earn you respect and trust in your abilities from all quarters, and show that you’re capable of managing the family empire. Remember:

  • Don’t spend more than you earn
  • Know exactly how much money you have, and how it will be spent
  • Separate wants from needs
  • Save!

Step Four – Be eager to learn

You may have an academic education which exceeds that of the business founder, but that doesn’t mean that you know it all. When you join the family firm, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in – nearly everyone in the business can teach you something, if you’re willing to listen and learn.

An eagerness to learn shows that you’re genuinely committed to the business and your enthusiasm will rub off on your co-workers, who will rally around you. You can learn from others by:

  • Talking to everyone in the business, from top management to the tea lady
  • Listening to what other people have to say
  • Watching to see what they’re doing
  • Working with them to get a feel for what they do.

Step Five – Do something different

The family business founder has others’ respect because he created something out of nothing. You can do the same. Instead of sitting pretty in an executive position, ask to be posted in a little-known division which needs help.

Then, set about building up that division into something which is distinct from the rest of the firm. For example, if the business has no online shopping facility – develop one. Or make a success of selling a particular product to a new market. Doing something different, and being good at it, is sure to get you noticed.

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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