Are you struggling with the complications of working in a family business? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Ted Clark, who runs the Center for Family Business at Northeastern University. They talk through advancing when you’re not a member of the family, managing up when your parents are your bosses, and whether it’s better to work for a family enterprise or a big corporation.
From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:
HBR: Surviving in a Family Business When You’re Not Part of the Family by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer — “Successful non-family leaders stick to the ‘management room.’ They understand that when it comes to the ‘family room,’ the family has all the power; it’s never going to be a fair fight. Blood is usually thicker than water. Yet family squabbles do spill over into the management room, and non-family executives must be able to isolate the business from the family when family members can’t see past their own internal squabbling.”
HBR: Avoid the Traps That Can Destroy Family Businesses by George Stalk, Jr. and Henry Foley — “An underappreciated problem is that families often grow more quickly than their businesses do. If a company founder has three children, each of whom marries and produces three more children, each of whom marries, within three generations there could be 25 people or more (including all the spouses) working or looking to work at the company. Many businesses simply don’t have enough work to employ every family member.”
HBR: Saving a Family Business from Emotional Dysfunction by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries — “The most persistent complaints I hear are that members of the senior generation refuse to share power with their adult children; that there are family members put into management positions for which they are not qualified; and that it is impossible to have a truly professional relationship with someone in the family (father, mother, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, or cousin). And all too often, the powerholders in a family business fail to address such problems effectively.”
HBR: Leadership Lessons from Great Family Businesses by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Sonny Iqbal, and Jörg Ritter — “Leadership decisions, particularly at the very top, can be a minefield for family businesses. But our research shows that companies can navigate safely and prosper for generations if they establish good governance as a baseline, preserve family gravity, identify and develop high-potential executives both within the family and outside it, and bring the right discipline to their CEO succession and integration processes.”