By Bill Boyajian
Why do children so often choose NOT to join their parents in business? There are many reasons, Not the least of which are the changes taking place in the industry such as an increasingly challenging business environment, varying interests in other areas of endeavor, more opportunities for creative expression, or simply just wanting to do their own thing. But there is a hidden reason that most parents miss in their quest to build a viable family business, and one that can carry on a legacy that parents may desire.
The Children Are Watching and Listening
In many business families, the importance of conveying the psychological legacy of the firm is a much more important part of child rearing than many parents realize. Even though a young child’s career may be many years in the future, this is still an important time in forming youthful impressions of the family business. Unbeknownst to most parents, children watch and listen, even subliminally, to what parents discuss around the dinner table at home, if not around the store when the children may be doing their homework after school. Children will often internalize their parents’ attitudes and values about the business. Moreover, they also get a strong sense of the quality of life it provides, and the impact the business may have on their parents’ marriage and family relationships. Such lessons learned early in life, often unintentionally, are not easily swayed later in life by lectures from parents about the virtues and viability of the business.
A Classic Parental View
One very successful first-generation jewelry store owner expressed dismay that neither of her children wanted to enter the business and ultimately take it over. Her point about it was a much better economic opportunity than either child had going seemed quite rational. And the prospects of having to try to sell the business or cash out by holding a Going Out of Business sale just seemed like a
total waste of a lifetime of work. But the problem was that her children’s viewpoints about the business had been formed many years earlier, their memories being much the same. Complaints repeatedly heard about vendors, customers, employee loyalty, shrinking margins, longer work hours, and six-day work weeks took their toll. Now what she wanted her children to hear, and believe, was about the joys, the success, and the satisfaction of the business. But it was too late. Her kids wanted nothing to do with the business, even if it was a way to make a good living.
Be Careful Parents
It is easy for parents of Millennials to make claims about their children’s youthful lack of interest in the business and a less than stellar work ethic, but most fail to take responsibility for enabling them in the process. Many don’t realize the impact they make on their children by what they say, how they act, and the power of their attitude about the business. I’m not suggesting that you avoid the truth and deceive your children, but I am suggesting that the way you carry yourself and the way you express your happiness or at times frustrations with the business, has much more to do with youthful interpretations than what you say when they’re adults.
For some, it is too late to turn the tide. But for others – those parents with young children – this may be the message you need to hear and the time you need to hear it.