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Sticking By Family Business Policies


Sticking By Family Business Policies

Dear Advisor:

My son recently graduated from college. He has every intention of joining our business and has been interested since high school, when he interned during the summers. Five years ago, my siblings and I, who have all worked for the business at one point or another, decided to put an employment policy in place that requires next-generation members to work elsewhere for three years before entering our business. We did this in anticipation of the next generation graduating from college. My son is the third to graduate. He has two older cousins, one in medical school and the other a professional musician, neither of whom have an interest in the business. The next member of their generation to graduate from college will be my daughter, in three years, with four more in high school behind her.

Here is our challenge—the job market is horrible. The only position our son can find is as a grade school teacher. This work will not prepare him to enter our business. So I wonder if we should relax our restrictions and let him enter the business now, with the understanding that he will take a sabbatical to work elsewhere in a couple of years.
 
I am sure your situation is one facing many companies today, so I am glad you shared it. I assume you are asking for advice because you have concerns that relaxing the policy may not be the right answer. If you are asking yourself “What harm could it do to temporarily suspend our policy,” let me tell you the challenges you face.
 
First, you face a credibility challenge. How can you tell next-generation members you believe this policy is important if you don’t uphold it? For that matter, how can you credibly uphold any policies or rules you have developed if you waver on this one? Fairness is your second challenge. When younger members come along and the job market is better, is it fair to say they have to work elsewhere if their brother/cousin didn’t? The third challenge you face is accountability to your plan. If your son enters the business now and is thriving in an important role in two years, are you going to have the courage to pull him out to work elsewhere?
 
All this said, I understand the practical challenge the job market presents, and taking a job that doesn’t give your son the real-world experience the policy was set up to ensure is indeed questionable. Here are some options. Have your son apply for graduate school programs in areas that will be valuable to the business. When he graduates, the job market should be improved. A second option, if you can afford it, is for him to take a lesser-paying internship to gain experience. This work could be subsidized by you or by some lower-paying work (Starbucks is always looking for baristas!). One great option is to collaborate with peers in a similar situation, if you have them. Consider a “child swapping” arrangement where you employ one of their next-generation members and they employ your son for a few years.
 
You put your employment policy in place for good reasons, none of which have changed. Don’t let a short-term problem destroy the work you have done.
 

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