by Richard Harshaw

Nothing can bring more pride and joy to a parent than a child (mature offspring, not a little kid) who wants to enter the family business and does an outstanding job of making it work.  At the same time, few things bring more chagrin and anguish than a child who enters the family business and bungles it all away.  So to answer your question…


First, does the child really want to be in the family business?  Ask this question of the child some time when you have thicker skin than normal.  I think that many parents foist their family businesses off on their children the same way they force their kids to be involved in soccer, Tae Kwan Do, scouting, equestrian arts, debate clubs, and the like. (A lot of kids in those “mom’s taxi” situations really don’t want to be doing all that stuff.)  If they don’t, have the courage to open your hand and let that little bird fly to some other tree.


If they do, you next need to ask, Do they have the smarts and guts to do it?  If not, don’t make them the president some day.  Give them a job, yes, but don’t give them more responsibility than they can successfully handle or grow into.  If you overstep their reach, you will only hurt them in the long haul and probably destroy what you worked so hard to build.


Third, treat your kids in the business no different than you would any other employee. This sounds easy (or hard, depending on how you see it), but you cannot be easy on them because they are the heir apparent, nor can you be extra hard on them to make them tough to run the show when it is their time.


Nepotism can have a devastating effect on company morale when the other employees are not family members!


Bottom line: If the kid(s) can do it, bring them in and prepare them for the Big Job.  If they can’t, bring them in as employees, but find someone else to turn it over to.  And if they don’t wanna, don’t make ‘em.  You’ll probably damage your family as much as your business if you do!