The family business: Is it for you?

Family business

Not everyone who has the choice to join the family business wants to. They may have another career path in mind, or they may just not have a passion for what the family does.

Having a family who owns a business might sound ideal to some. It gives them a clear and focused career path, provides a level of stability and allows them to skip the challenging and often daunting steps of starting a job search from square one.

Yet not everyone who has the choice to join the family business wants to. They may have another career path in mind, or they may just not have a passion for what the family does. Yet if the business has been in the family for years, and it's expected that the son or daughter will eventually take over, the pressure to keep the legacy going may make it tough to pursue other career ventures. No one wants to disappoint his or her family, but it shouldn't come at the price of professional happiness.

"The attraction to a family business for a child of the founding parent or grandparent is, 'Why would I go work for X when I can help continue the family legacy, grow the enterprise and help build long-term wealth where I already have built in knowledge and passion?'" says John Kinskey, founder of AccessDirect, which provides affordable Virtual PBX phone systems. He's also a third generation entrepreneur who grew up in a family business.

Yet he says that for a child who has other interests, it's imperative for both the parents and children to have open communication and not allow things to go unsaid for too long. "The key problem, of course, is so much goes unsaid. Neither of the parents or the child really understands the other's wishes and desires. The parent is busy building the business and the child is busy trying to figure out life and how to proceed. The burden of expectations is probably more assumed than said out loud."

Communicating your feelings
Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that people who want to branch out from the family business should first explore the reasons why, along with the pros and cons, and how they'll make the transition. Once they've done some soul searching and have answered these questions, they should then go to the family and tell them how they feel. She suggests they be direct about their choice, but also be open to feedback. They should go into the conversation "knowing what you want and being able to explain and express the reason for the choice," Bahar says. That way, family members will likely be more receptive.

Bahar says that those having these sensitive conversations with family members should only share what they feel comfortable sharing. "It could be vague, if that is the truth; for example, some don't know why they don't want to be involved with the family business; it [just] may not feel right. An essential piece, however, is to have another option occurring and that this is not just [about] not wanting to work in the business; that there are alternatives in place."

Discovering your true passion
If children join the family business without ever exploring other potential career paths, it could end up causing more harm than good -- to them and their family. If their heart isn't in it, they may not work as hard or care as much about the company's success, which could anger other family members and hurt the bottom line.

Instead, children should be encouraged to see what else is out there, and if they end up deciding the family business is indeed for them, all the better.

"I told my children from the get-go, don't consider my business as an opportunity, find your own passion and forge your own path," Kinskey says. "Otherwise you will never know 'who am I,' 'what is my passion,' and 'where do I belong.'"