When business is a family business

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When business is a family business

Family. One day, you’re thankful for them, the next day you resent them. If you think it’s hard living with your family, imagine working with them.
Following in your parents’ footsteps and entering the family business is a time-honored tradition. Centuries ago, if your father was a fisherman, you became a fisherman. If your father was a cobbler, you became a cobbler. That custom has progressed all the way to multinational companies, with the Hyundai family in cars, the Gallo family in wine, the Marriott family in hotels, the Eccles family in banking and the Crane family in paper making.
Regardless of the size of your parents’ business ― from a small shop, to a restaurant, to a multinational firm ― you may have thought about working for them.
Perhaps you thought about the job in terms of easy money, no need to prepare for interviews and a permanent future without a chance of getting fired.
Think again.
According to studies by the Partnership with Family Business at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, fewer than 30 percent of family businesses survive into the second generation, and only about 12 percent make it to the third generation.
But even then, if you see yourself as a future CEO of a company, family business professionals stress relationship savviness (with your family and with your employees) and the need for vision.
Most of all, according to the Family Business Institute, working for the family business is not an entitlement, but a responsibility.
So treat the opportunity to work for the family like any other job, but note that the benefits and pitfalls of working for your relatives ― and there are plenty of both ― are different from working for strangers.
Ms. Park, 25, works for her father’s chemical manufacturing company in Seoul. She majored in political science and initially had no interest in her father’s business. But she joined his company eight months ago because he’s expanding into mainland China, where she eventually wants to work.
“By taking the job, I expected that I’d learn a lot by meeting people in high positions,” she says. She has.
A 27-year-old executive, Ms. Lee, had a similar experience after joining her parents’ Seoul-based international food distribution company three years ago. “Since my father’s business is well-established, I immediately had introductions to people in high positions,” Ms. Lee says.
Mr. Youn, the 33-year-old vice president of his family’s manufacturing company, agrees and says that it helps that “I didn’t have to start from scratch.” He has worked three years in the steel division of his family’s firm.
Another benefit that Mr. Youn points to is trust. If you’re in business by yourself, it’s hard to find people you trust. If you join a company that is run by your parents, the trust factor is built in.
Ms. Park agrees. “I don’t have what my father calls the ‘low trust problem.’ He often talks about how it’s difficult to trust people, and that he needs someone he can trust 100 percent within his company.”
On the flip side, Mr. Youn says that he receives plenty of compliments as a descendant of the founder, and that it’s difficult to weed out the sincere people from the sycophants.
It’s easy to feel pressure as a family member working his or her way up the corporate ladder. “You really have to prove yourself,” Mr. Youn says. “You don’t get as much credit for your good work. If you’re promoted or get a raise, everyone thinks, ‘He would’ve gotten promoted anyway.’ But you get a lot of notice if you mess up.”
Ms. Lee agrees. “I feel like my co-workers are always watching me,” she says. “People think I can do whatever I want. But that’s not really true. Even if I clear my vacation with my supervisor, I have to clear it with my parents, too.”
Ms. Lee actually wants to quit her job, but says she can’t. So she’s taking a three-month sabbatical ― and only after arguing with her parents. Ultimately, she says, the learning experience has been great and there’s an added benefit: “They’re family.”
Be as courteous to your family as you are to strangers. It’s easy to take family for granted, Ms. Lee advises.
“Make sure you get a strong education either in business or in the field” (like hotel management if your family owns a hotel), says Marilyn Edelson, president of Ontrack Coaching and Consulting. She also suggests working elsewhere at a similar (but not competitive) firm to gain experience as a standard employee.
Be humble. “Your co-workers are going to think that you think you’re the best,” Mr. Youn says. He says if you’re humble, it makes it easier to for your co-workers open up to you. “If you know what’s in their hearts, it’s easier to lead them.”

by Joe Yong-hee
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