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Tips on Surviving as a Baby in the Family Business


By Jennifer M. Pendergast, Ph.D.

While outsiders looking in might see next-generation family business owners as the lucky ones (those born with a silver spoon), those who start young working in the family business know it isn’t all that easy.  Everyone is watching them and waiting for them to fail.  No mistake is forgotten.  Resentment and distrust tend to come with the territory.

As a result, many family business experts suggest that working outside the family business is a good idea.  It provides experience as well as credibility.  It demonstrates to other employees that you were valued enough to be hired (and hopefully promoted) outside the family business.  And, if you choose your assignment outside the family business wisely, you can bring in skills and knowledge from outside.

However, working outside the business isn’t enough to ensure a smooth transition into the business, and for some people, working outside the business isn’t an option.  So what else can you to do earn your stripes as the baby in the business?

  • Pick some hard jobs.  Don’t take only cushy assignments.
  • Ensure that you’ve done your time in the most critical areas of the business (e.g., lending in a bank, sales, front-line management, etc.).
  • Get in early and stay late (don’t act entitled).
  • Ask other employees for their input.
  • Get paid on the same scale as other employees with similar positions.
  • Participate in the annual performance evaluation process, if your business has one.
  • Get to know key customers and other stakeholders (banker, lawyer, insurance agent, landlord, etc.)
  • Don’t offer too many opinions early in your employment.
  • Ask smart questions.
  • Demonstrate leadership outside the business (church, community, sports, academics). Find a place where you can shine; carve out a niche in the business for yourself.

While nothing can make entering the business as a young family member easy, proving yourself and setting an example of dedication to the business will go a long way toward earning other employees respect.

 

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