The Boss’s Kids

What it takes to succeed when you decide to bring your children into the family business.

In a perfect world, as owners, we all dream of running a successful business. We strive to work hard, hire great employees, provide the best benefits possible, have great customers, make a profit, give back to the community, enjoy family time and pass down our business to our sons or daughters.

I grew up in a family business and was a third generation child in it. I was brought up old-school and with the proverbial iron fist. I remember those early days of being told, “Don’t ask questions. Just do what you’re told.” I moved up the ladder and became a manager in my late 20s. I was in charge of almost everything, including training new employees.

The business was growing, and I thought whatever I was doing had to be correct. Eventually, I had a family and decided it was time to introduce my children to the family business. I brought my kids to work when they were very young and made sure they performed the lowest-level jobs. They cleaned bathrooms, took out the trash, swept the floors, put away inventory, etc. I expected them to think like an owner and not make mistakes, period, because they were the boss’s kids.

When they did make mistakes, I pointed them out and made sure the rest of the employees observed no favoritism. My sons grew older and took on more responsibilities such as changing oil, replacing tires and general mechanical repair. But I began to notice they were not enthused about the business and seemed to be going through the motions.

I thought, “How could that be?” This was a great opportunity, and they weren’t excited. As time passed, though, my oldest son began to take an interest in the service adviser position. We were then working side-by-side, and I was supposed to be training him like a new hire to work the front desk.

I became so obsessed with watching his every move that I made him miserable. I didn’t see it, but my managers did. My son wanted to learn, but I wouldn’t take time to stop and explain what to do and why because I was trying to do it all myself – not letting him learn from his mistakes. And I realize now that I came close to pushing all my kids away from the business due to my behavior and unrealistic expectations. I thought I was teaching them, but I was cheating them out of the opportunity to learn hands-on lessons.

So my lesson for you is to take the time to teach young people and be fair. We should all realize that moving forward requires patience, understanding and discipline for all employees – especially family. Don’t expect your children to be your clones.

Once I learned that, my job actually got easier. I now see my kids taking on new projects, trying to figure out how to make the shop more successful from their own point of view and incorporating new ideas. I achieved my dream, luckily. But it definitely took some self-realization on my part to expect the best but treat them like the rest. And I feel certain that when they have children of their own, they will be better teachers than I was.