Bringing Children Into The Family Business

In my work with entrepreneurs and family business owners there are quite divergent views about whether to bring children into the family business when they are young adults, or even at any stage. Some say never and others have a desire to perpetuate the family association with the business. There are cases for both. Of course, rationality plays into it and the family legacy.

In my own case, I had to work through many of the issues because our family had a pastoral (cattle ranching) business which I eventually managed for a number of years. I enjoyed it from a business perspective but ultimately did not have the passion to make it a life long endeavor. My brother was not interested at all.

The big issue is, do the children want to be involved in the business? Then importantly, what is their passion for the business?

On one side it is wrong to force the children into something they do not want to be part of. However, is it wrong to deny them the opportunity? Often parents do not want the children in the business to avoid family problems by not mixing family and business.

I believe each case needs to be looked at on its merits. The starting point should be the DNA of the family members and also the DNA of the family and the DNA of the business. By looking at the question from the inside out, the answer will soon be apparent. If the children have a very strong passion for the business then the next issue of how they are involved should be looked at. Who can blame them if the business has been discussed around the dinner table every night for 20+ years?

In considering the involvement of the children, their aptitudes and abilities need to be examined. Passion is one important aspect, having the capability is another. Often this will come down to the role they play – certainly at the start. Thrusting them into a leadership role without experience and knowledge could be a disaster. Protocols need to be put in place for evaluation and determining their place on merit.

Overall, a family governance structure will be needed which properly regulates decision making. The decision making structure needs to be separate for each of the family, investments and business. They are all quite different areas. A key part of this will be the involvement of children in the business.

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