On Rules of Engagement for FamBiz

Who Can Work in the Business, and When

There are a number of subjects that come up again and again in the wonderful world of family business, and sometimes it feels like I’ve written about most of them here already.

Still, when there’s a confluence of happenings over a short space of time that puts one of them back on my blog radar again, I like to revisit them.

Such is the case this week, as the subject of rules for working in a family business has come up a few times, from different directions, in my interactions over the past few weeks.

So let’s take a fresh look at the subject of “rules of engagement”Rules book for FamBiz.

 

Let’s Start with a Flashback

It’s not as if I’ve written about this recently either. In the summer of 2018, I wrote Forced into the FamBiz, which was about the fact that I believe that it makes sense to “force” one’s offspring to work in your family business when they are young, as a summer and/or part-time job.

It also clearly states that I’m a proponent of making a rule that families should not hire their children for fulltime jobs in the business until they have successfully obtained and held a similar job elsewhere, for a certain number of years.

 

This was an idea my father had heard about, but had decided unilaterally didn’t apply to his family (and therefore me).

I’ve recounted this many times since beginning my work with other business families.

I was an undergraduate business student at McGill, and my Dad told me he’d listened to some consultants explain why there were many reasons to forbid hiring family members until they’d demonstrated the ability to get a job on their own, without using their last name as leverage.

 

“But We’re Not Gonna Do That”

After I looked at him with some hope in my eyes (as I recall it, anyway) he stated “But we’re not gonna do that”.

Having not had to live by such a rule is now one of the main reasons I now endorse it.

But let’s get to the occasions where this came up recently. The first was on an FEX webinar where some family business leaders were sharing stories about how they got through the worst of the pandemic.

One business leader from western Canada related that her son had joined their business recently, and that this went against their family’s rule against allowing family members to come on board until they had worked elsewhere for 10 years. (10 years seems excessive, but alas, that was their rule).

As it turned out, every department of the company was now fighting to have him join them, thereby signaling that he had proved his worth despite the shortened period of working elsewhere for very long.

 

Family Business Collaboration

I recently joined a nascent group that pulls together members of family businesses and consultants who work with them. Family Business Collaboration

On a Zoom call recently, someone noted that his FamBiz had a rule about working elsewhere for 3 years.

I asked how long that rule had been around in his third generation company, and I found his reply interesting.

He noted that he was the first person to be “the beneficiary of that rule”, since his grandfather had not applied it to his father at the time.

Isn’t in interesting that a father who didn’t have to live by a rule went on to implement it, and his son, who was subject to it, found he was a beneficiary of it.  I get it.

 

A “Lessons Learned” Video

So when a respected colleague and friend (and mentor) asked me if I could share a brief video of myself for a family business conference she will soon be giving, this all came in handy.

She’s now asking several people involved in the FamBiz space about lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Would you be at all surprised to learn that the lesson I shared was all about the idea that there are many reasons why demanding that young adults work elsewhere before joining their family’s business makes a lot of sense, and that I wish my Dad had instituted such a rule?

I hope not.

I have few if any “hard rules” that I recommend to my family clients, but if I did, this would be it.