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Edition 95 – Parent or Employer

Almost every family business I’ve worked with has more than one member of the family working inside of it. Sons working with their fathers. Husbands and wives working alongside each other. Sons and daughters in law working with their spouse’s parents, daily. They are wonderful dynamics to observe and I never tire of helping each of them figure out what works in their business, so that it can help their families.

In our own family business, the Chief Operating Officer also happens to be the same person who 25 years ago said “I do” to me. The Trainee is our son. It makes for an interesting dynamic for there are times when, as the CEO, you need to act as the employer and, there are times when you need to act as a parent. Recently, I faced this dilemma myself.

Callum, our eldest son, is currently part way through a double degree at the University of Wollongong. Prior to venturing out on my own in October 2016, Callum worked for the business I was previously a partner in, Redmans. He was learning the financial and accounting ropes as he made his way through university. Last October, he made the transition with us.

Throughout the past 12 months, Callum has learned a lot. He has struggled as well, as has been evidenced by what he has been doing, some of the re-learning he has had to undertake and the level of enthusiasm he has employed at various stages.

Around four weeks ago, Callum advised us that accounting and commerce were no longer for him. It was hardly a surprise, but it was, if you get my drift? We had a heart to heart conversation and, at this stage, he is putting his degree on hold.

Now, as his employer, I was upset at his decision. I’ve spent twelve months bringing his skills up to speed, teaching him new things, articulating to him the meaning of the work that I am doing and why I’m doing it. This decision has, partly, seen me tear up twelve months of hard work. Man, was I annoyed!

On the other hand, as his parent, I couldn’t be happier. No parent wants to see their children undertake any path in life simply because they’re trying to keep their parents happy. His life is too young, and his obligations are too few for him not to stop, take stock and re-assess what it is that he wants to do with himself.

As a parent, my advice to Callum was not to jump into another degree. I encouraged him to think about what he wants to do with his life. I asked him to consider what he enjoyed doing vs. what he felt was a chore. More than anything, I asked him to consider what it was that he was passionate about in his life, and start heading down that road.

After two weeks, Callum was recruited by the AFL to be a part of the Junior Development Programme in South Western Sydney. Callum is passionate about all sports, but particularly AFL. It is a game that he has played for more than a decade and has given him some of his greatest joys (Grand Final wins) and greatest losses (full knee reconstruction at the age of 17). For Callum, to be a part of a sport that he loves will enable him to stay active, engage in something he likes doing, but also more than anything, consider whether he is passionate enough to want to pursue it further.

In your family business, are you holding onto some of your staff because they are family and wouldn’t want to let you down, vs them not living the life they truly desire?

This Week’s Tip

Sometimes as an Employer in your family business, you need to stop being an Employer and start being a Parent, for the well being of your children, your family and your business.