My Grandpa’s funeral is today, and few things can make me think more about a family business legacy than him.

Is it worth it to have a family business?

In some cases, family can be exactly what holds a company together. In others, it seems like a business can be what tears a family apart. How can you take all of the positive aspects of family business while leaving out the negative ones? Is it even worth thinking about passing on your business to your children?

Four Generations of Tucker Men

Fifty-five years ago, my Grandpa started a family business (a mission, really), and he did everything possible to have his kids work with him in it but within a few decades they all drifted away into their own lives. The family business he had set up just wasn’t for them. There were some bumps in the road as everyone drifted away from my Grandpa’s dream but his children all needed to focus on their own families and find their own dreams. My Grandpa retired proudly and loved by his children, even though he left the mission to different people than he expected to.

Today, my father owns a business (CLIP Software) that has had some or all of his children working in it since he started it in 1989 (Even a six year old can stuff an envelope!;-)).  Dave’s son is currently one of his right-hands in the company, his daughter helps with marketing, and other children, nephews, and in-laws have worked for him in the past or over College breaks. I can’t picture this business moving on without family somehow involved in it – it is the vision of so many of Dave’s children as well as his own.

What is the difference? And what can keep a family going strong while they do business together?

Here are my thoughts from experience and what I have seen in other companies around me.

Family Comes First

The only way to make a family business work is to have your family relationships come first – remember that when you die it’s more important to have your family surrounding you than a company name. If your children or other family members want to move on to do their own dreams, let them! If they want to run with your dream, try to let them find a part of it that they can own and run with.

Business is For Profit

I am not saying that family members need to always get a job when they want it (but aren’t worth it), should get the biggest checks in the company, or have 50 extra vacation days! If your family only wants to work for your company to take advantage of it you may want to steer them towards a different career where they can learn to work for their living.;-) 

When you treat your family members better than your employees in the work environment you are looking for trouble. Your best employees will never stand for it and you’ll be left with a very unprofitable company and lazy employees.

Work Ethics Work

I think it was a huge benefit to my siblings and I that growing up we always worked for a fair wage and typically worked under my Dad’s employees. We were paid like employees and were always expected to respect our managers and work the hardest and best that we could at any job. Our Dad was the first one on our case if it looked like we were twiddling our thumbs while on the job (even if we were only 6 years old).
We took the trash out when we were waiting for a new job, we made cold calls like anyone else, and we stuffed as many envelopes and got as many paper cuts as any employee in the company did working that day. An employee with a great work ethic is good for any company, and if you have taught your children to have one from the beginning that can be hugely profitable for your company.

Pro for you + Pro for your kids = Great Business

If your children are excited about the family business and do want to work hard in it, try to give them a part of it that they can take and run with. Don’t micromanage them just because you’re the parent and they’re the kid – help them make smart decisions and grow the company the way you would respect and teach any other employee to. Start them at the bottom until they earn a higher rank, but also give them that added responsibility when they are ready for it.

No one will work harder for a business than an owner, and if your children own it as their own legacy they could be some of the best employees you ever have!