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Joining the Family Business

Generally speaking, until they are about 10 years of age, children are sure their parents are superheroes, clever, and the most loving people in the whole world. They are the best. 

When youngsters join college, at about age 16 they think, parents to be the biggest idiots in the world. Old fashioned, in thoughts and everything else. When they leave college at about 20, they do not think, they know their parents are outdated if not actually stupid.

If they join the family business at about age  22 they are certain that such people cannot be their true parents.

When they have worked for about 5 years, they suddenly realise how smart and wise their parents are. 


It is a fascinating and exciting time, when the young join the family business. It is also frustrating and can even be hazardous for everyone concerned, if not handled properly.

There is no perfect way, but there are some good principles. here is one way I recommend those who seek my counsel. 

Permit me to explain using an analogy. 

When farmers use bullock carts they harness two bulls of similar size, strength and nature. Most established organisations are like a bullock cart being hauled by a stable set of owners and managers, (the bulls). Progressing steadily forward, their manner could almost be considered routine and boring.

Now imagine to this bullock cart we harness a young young, strong and energetic bull, with attitude, an independent mind brimming with fantasies and ideas. The young bull thinks this cart is a war chariot  and tugs very hard and with enthusiasm, often at odds with the older bull/s. The older, bull is cautious and reluctant to race ahead and the young bull prances about all the time. 

Both the young and the old are being dragged by the other and the cart skews from side to side and often topples, damaging the bullock cart and its occupants, while the enraged bulls land up attacking each other. 

This is the scenario in most family businesses. But it need not be so. 

What often works is,

1. To take time to orient the youngster to the business. Explaining the nature of the business, products and services offered, markets and customers, employees and associates, vendors and competitors, assets and machinery, etc. These are, the given, hard realities. 

2. The beliefs, philosophy, values, policies and style of working are explained. These are the soft realities.

3. Goals, objectives, dreams and future plans. These are the visualised realities.

Establish an open channel by designating a person or persons for mentoring the youngster. With whom they can hold discussions and obtain answers to queries which are bound to arise going ahead. 

After orientation the youngster must be,

* Assigned a small project or assignment. Not so small that he or she feels slighted or humiliated, but not so important that failure can irreparably damage the organisation's finances or reputation.

* Be given specific goals and objectives, and independent responsibility. 

* He or she will be asked to prepare and submit to the elders a plan, a budget, and resources required from within and if essential from outside the organisation and family.

* After an agreement is reached the project is given a go ahead clearly indicating how often the project will be reviewed, what aspects and manner of review should be clearly indicated. 

* Must have access to consult and take advice from elders and other team members as and when they need it.

Give them your blessings and let them fly. 

Well it may sound all 'hunky dory'. However experience indicates that there is a good chance that the project will not meet its expected objectives, budgets or schedules. 

An overall review at the end of the project, will indicate to both the youngster and to the elders the capacity, capabilities, grit and sharpness of the youngster and his or her possible potential within the organisation. 

After conclusion there has to be a debriefing, discussions and some important decisions

* What attributed to success and failure? (Blaming or condemning rarely helps.)

* What did we learn?

* What corrections and improvements would be needed going forward?

* What strengths and weaknesses were identified.

* Do both elders and youngsters want the involvement to continue?

Usually there are 3 possible outcomes. 

1. Total success 

2. Mixture of success with some failures

3. Failure and collapse of the project.

If there is success and the desire to work together then the same approach will be taken for more responsibilities, gradually increasing both in importance and complexity.

If there is partial success, we try again, avoiding what we learnt as being harmful to success.

If there is failure, then a call has to be taken if it was due to the project itself being a bad choice. Was it ineffective planning, team work or leadership? Was it lack of commitment, knowledge, or skill?

The youngster and the elder can mutually discuss and close in on an agreement. However the decision of future course will depend entirely on the elder's leadership.

Though I mention family business this can be used in every situation where someone new joins a new team or organisation. 

Very often the problem is with the elders themselves and they must not be too harsh in preemptively judging youngsters and new joiners if they want to build  Correcting and criticising are not the same thing. 

I wish you success.


Ref: G0610

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