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Deciding to Join a Family Business

If you're considering joining your in-laws' business, read this advice on making the right decision for your own career aspirations.

Deciding to Join a Family Business

Family Matters

If you're thinking about joining the family business, first clarify any unstated expectations with other family members to avoid ambiguity and bizarro assumptions. This will help establish clear roles and responsibilities from the very beginning.

Family Matters

If you've decided to join your in-law's family business, you might want to spend a few years working elsewhere first. This gives you the chance to gain some experience in a more objective setting, earn some promotions, and report to different bosses. Then you'll bring greater knowledge, experience, and achievement into the family firm.

Don't Go There

When a family business is undergoing stress because of in-law problems or outside issues, business relationships and personal ties among relatives are at stake. For example, if you have an argument in the office on the third Wednesday in November, you still have to sit down with your opponent the next day over Thanksgiving dinner.

Mother: "Jen, we've given this lots of thought, and your Dad and I are really hoping that you'll join your brother, sister-in-law, and us in the family business after you graduate in May."

Dad: (jumping for joy) "This is one of my greatest dreams come true! And I'm sure you're as excited as I was when I joined my parents in the family business. So, what do you say, Jen?"

Jen: (stalling for time) "Well, I'm not surprised. I did work in the business during summers and school vacations just like my brother and his wife did, and now my college graduation is only a few months away. I, uh, guess it makes sense. It's sort of what I always expected, too. It's just that I've got, well, some concerns, and I guess I'd like to think about it some more..."

Why does Jen want to think further before she agrees to join the family business? Because she's smart, that's why. Jen realizes that becoming part of a family business can be a double-edged sword. Before you decide to join your in-laws in work as well as in play, you need time to assess your own skills, examine your career and personal goals, consider your relationships with your in-laws, and explore other options.

Be sure to lobby for a competitive salary, one that would be paid to a non-family employee performing a similar job. Obviously, your in-laws would be cheating you if they underpaid you, but overpaying can be even worse. If you're paid more than non-family members, you're getting into bondage -- the golden handcuff variety. The inflated salary can easily tie you to a job you might neither like nor be suited for, but you can't afford to leave. Your big bucks can also raise the hackles among non-family members in the company.

The following questions can help you decide whether or not you're cut out for mixing business and family.

  1. Are you strong enough to make decisions based on what's best for the business rather than what's best for the family? To keep the family business alive, you have to do what is best for the business.

  2. Do you think the CEO -- Dad, Mom, or another relative -- has the necessary commitment to maintain long-term profitability?

  3. Can you be in the family business and still be your own person?

  4. Is there accountability in the business?

  5. Is generating money in the family business the only reason the family stays together?

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