Should You Work for a Family Business?

The title of a recent Wall Street Journal feature caught my attention: “The Upside of Being an Outsider in a Family Business.” As an interim CEO, I know a lot about being the outsider in a family business. But my position is different from the start — I have been brought in as the boss at a critical time, with power and authority to weigh in on decisions about the future of the company.

What about executives that chose to go to work for a family business, knowing from the beginning that they are outsiders? They would naturally have doubts about their ability to move up in the company. Will they be eligible for promotions or will those automatically go to family members, who may be less experienced and less qualified?

If you go to work for a family business, are you limiting your career and opportunities for future growth? Will you be caught up in family squabbles?

While those potential disadvantages of working for a family-owned business are ones to consider, there are actually several advantages to working as a non-family executive in a family-owned business.

You may be more respected for bringing in an outside perspective.

In many family-owned businesses, the family members’ experience is limited to just that business. You are bringing a wider spectrum of experience and more knowledge about the market. Every business needs a fresh perspective and new ideas.

Competition for executive jobs may be less.

Forbes Insights released research in the spring that showed 47 percent of executives from private companies perceive that their upward mobility will be limited if they go to work for a family-owned business. Fifty-five percent of people that run family businesses reported that this perception harms the talent pool. While it isn’t always the case that a family member will be considered over any other applicant for a promotion, that perception may keep qualified people from seeking out the position in the first place.

• You may be given more responsibility and enjoy more flexibility than in a publicly owned company.

If a rigid, corporate lifestyle is not for you, you may find more flexibility at a family-owned business where rigid policies don’t have to be enforced. And because family-owned businesses tend to be smaller, you may actually move up the ladder and take on more responsibility faster.

• Family-owned businesses rely on outside talent and may do more to keep you on board.

Family members in a family-run business tend to be more loyal to the company as it is in their family and they may also have an ownership stake. But if you are hired as an executive and prove yourself to be a valuable employee, that company will have to work harder to keep you in a senior position. In a recent article on Fox Small Business Center, consultant Mary Hladio, president of Ember Carriers Leadership Group in Cincinnati, Ohio addressed this issue.

“In today’s competitive market, family-owned businesses have to be mindful of how non-family talent can benefit their business,” she said. “Businesses need to be prepared to offer fair compensation, competitive benefits, a growth track and perhaps some non-traditional benefits.”

Those benefits may even include an ownership stake in the company. Other family-run businesses like RDG Concessions, which operates several luggage and apparel shops at San Francisco International Airport, tries to retain senior employees by treating them like family and involving them in operational decisions.

Working in a family business as a non-family member may not be for you. But you may not want to automatically rule it out, either.

One thought on “Should You Work for a Family Business?

  1. Really enjoyed this article and it certainly hit a chord with me (as an owner of a family business). We strive to keep our talent and they actually (after 10 / 15 / 20 and 30 years) end up being ‘part of the family’ in terms of relationship, input, flexibility etc. Bringing in outside talent can never be underrated; would you rather have someone who works for you because they want too – or one who feels they ‘should’?

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