Graduating into the family business

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – There is one big advantage 23-year-old Clint Morrison has found joining his family’s business fresh upon graduating from Rider University: he has a job, while most of his friends do not.

“They’re all still sort of scrambling,” Morrison says.

The Morrison family business, Benefit Design Specialists Inc, administers employee benefit plans for small businesses and is based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Dad Tim employs not only his youngest son, Clint, but also two older sons, ages 27 and 29, as well as his own sister, a sister-in-law, a cousin and about 10 other non-related employees.

The key to a harmonious office with so many family members?

“You have to find a spot for them to be productive or they won’t make it in the family business,” the patriarch says.

Here are some tips on joining the workforce – with your relatives, according to family business experts:

START ELSEWHERE

There is no official tally of how many “& Sons” or “& Daughters” are among the 28 million small businesses in the United States, according to the Small Business Association.

Yet one of Clint Morrison’s business professors advised him not to start in the family business. The advice: go elsewhere and garner some knowledge of the industry first. Given the state of the job market and his family’s specialty niche, Morrison decided that was not feasible.

The strategy worked well for Laura Salpeter, who got a law degree and then worked for a few years at a law firm before joining her father Scott Salpeter’s Miami-based investment banking firm. Also working there, after a few years of getting experience with other companies, is Philip Cassel, son of Scott Salpeter’s partner. Both offspring are now 30.

“Working with my father was something I’ve always contemplated. So I dived into the business world and found out more about what it is,” said Cassel.

WORK YOUR WAY UP

Even if you spent your childhood playing in the family factory, that does not mean you are going to walk into a corner office once you get your diploma.

Robert Spielman, a partner in the tax and business services unit at Marcum LLP, advises clients that it is their job to make sure their kids are exposed to all aspects of the business, especially if they expect to hand it over to them one day.

For example, one of his clients, a fish distributor, hired several family members for its sales force. “But none learned how to manage the business, and eventually, they had financial troubles,” Spielman said.

The best way is to start at the bottom and experience all areas of the enterprise. If the family business is a trucking company, start out in maintenance, then drive for six months, go into sales and then assist in the financing side before managing the fleet and employees, Spielman says.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

The family business dream – that someday, all of this will be yours – can be a great motivator, but it can also instill an unwieldy sense of entitlement.

This happened to one family business owner client of Steve Faulkner, head of private business advisory for J.P. Morgan Private Bank’s Advice Lab. The son was lording his status over his coworkers and superiors, saying “Someday, I’m going to own all of this, and fire everyone I don’t like.”

When the son’s manager finally had the courage to tattle to the boss, he fired his own son. However, two months later, when the son could not find another job, the boss asked another manager to hire him back.

“That’s a horrible succession plan,” said Faulkner.

It is better, he says, for business owners to get their relatives to work harder than they ever have to be worthy to take over the reins.

Another of Faulkner’s clients does exactly this, down to a formalized training program for the fourth generation that is now joining the business. Newcomers spend up to six years training at international subsidiaries before being brought back to headquarters for management jobs.

The process drills respect into the employees, something Laura Salpeter says she has learned on the job.

Her top advice for those joining the family business? Understand you are working for your parent, not with your parent.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Dan Grebler)

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