Helping Family Businesses
Prosper Across Generations®



By John L. Ward, Ph.D.

With college graduation—and especially with the completion of graduate school—comes the prospect of joining the family business. For those who wish to move into an employment position at the family’s business, we offer ten tips.

  1. Negotiate what you need, upfront. The best time to discuss your concerns and hopes is before you take your job in the family business. This is the time to define a career path and compensation philosophy. This is the time to seek a career development coach or a board member mentor. This is the time to clarify continuing education wishes and support.
  2. Keep a slight distance from other employees. Family business successors commonly have an increased need to be liked. Guard against pursuing close friendships at work. Be friendly, but seek no confidantes.
  3. Protect your family. Others will test you. They will try to get you to gossip about your family and family life. Avoid those conversations.
  4. Protect company channels. Respect your boss. Everyone’s watching to see if you do—especially those who someday might be your boss or your subordinate. Only skip the channel if the best interests of the company are truly at risk.
  5. Never use the “family card.” Don’t seek special consideration because you’re a member of the owning family. If special circumstances afford you special treatment (i.e., you’re invited to a board meeting), work harder in return.
  6. Champion family values. If the business’ values are clear, everyone will wonder if you will walk the talk. So work a little longer. Arrive on time. Be prepared. Dress a little better. Keep your personal life away from the office.
  7. Unite with siblings. The foundation of a successful sibling partnership is mutual trust—keeping each other informed, assuring fairness to each other, supporting each other.
  8. Write the company’s history, culture, strategy. Attempting to articulate the history, culture, and strategy, and asking family members for feedback, is the fastest way to learn the essence of the business. It’s also a gift to the company.
  9. Ask lots and lots of questions. Asking questions is not only the best way to learn, but also shows an important humility and open-mindedness. Very often young successors feel the need to demonstrate their knowledge and offer their opinion to leadership to prove themselves. Avoid this temptation.
  10. Join some peers. Being a family member in a family business is a unique feeling and offers very special challenges. Sharing your experiences with trusted peers from other business families is of great value.

Happy commencement! You are about to embark on what most find to be a great privilege and opportunity.





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