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The pitfalls of working for a family business

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “I was recently hired as a manager in a small family-owned business. I’m having problems with another manager who happens to be the son of our CEO. Last week, I gave the CEO some constructive criticism about her son's performance, but she made it clear that critiquing him was a big mistake. I quickly got the message that her son can do no wrong and any discussion of his performance is off-limits. Now I feel that I can’t say anything about him, even though he’s my co-worker.  How can I deal with these frustrating family dynamics? — Not a Relative

Marie’s Answer:  A family business is nothing like a public corporation. When you work for a family, you’re in a completely different universe. Even if the business is professionally managed, relatives will always have a special status. Consider these points about your current situation:

•    During your critique of this guy, you apparently forgot that you were talking to his mom. As a manager, the CEO should have listened to your concerns. However, her maternal reaction should not have surprised you. When criticizing family, you must always tread carefully.

•    Remember that the son is quite likely to take over this business eventually. If the CEO dropped dead tomorrow, this guy could become your boss. So even if he’s an idiot, you need to get along with him. 

•    Although the CEO didn’t listen to your feedback about her son, I can guarantee that she’s listening to his feedback about you. If he speaks well of you, your life will definitely be easier. 

If you find that the combination of business and family drives you completely bonkers, be sure to consider that when making your next career move.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ulla Pinion January 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Other issues to consider, did “Not Related” offer this constructive criticism to the son first or go straight to the CEO. How was the criticism phrased? Were suggestions offered on how the son could improve his performance?

Is there anyway that this could have had a more positive outcome by pointing out one or two things that the son could do to really enhance his abilities as a leader. In a family business he’s not really replaceable so how can you help him and therefore the business succeed?


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