Everyone has heard the countless old adages and horror stories about mixing family and business -- including my mother. When I broke the news that my first job out of college was going to be working for my brother, she was horrified. Her final plea to get me to change my mind was, “The strength of the bond my children share is the thing in life that makes me happiest, and I’m petrified that you two working together will jeopardize a lifetime of work.”
The position -- and the industry -- in which my brother worked seemed totally unappealing at the time. The only part of the opportunity that intrigued me was the chance to work side-by-side with my brother. Not just because we have a shared history, but because of our shared values, work rate and ambition. I knew he was the type of mentor -- as a recent college grad with no business experience -- for which I was desperate.
Almost immediately after taking the job with my brother, I learned that all of the naysayers had been dead wrong. In fact, working with my brother gave me a head start and an advantage over my peers in a number of ways; and I’m certainly not the exception. As an avid reader of business books, I am constantly reminded of the case studies of small family-run businesses that have advanced into some of the largest household brands that we interact with every day: from Comcast and Walmart, to Campbell Soup Company and Gap, Inc.
There is no shortage of family-run businesses on the Fortune 500 list.
The key to being successful, then, doesn’t lie in working with family or not working with family, but instead is rooted in the decision of which family members to bring on to your team in the first place. Choosing a family member isn’t the mistake -- it’s choosing the wrong partner, who can set you down a path to failure. Here are a few things to consider before setting up shop with a relative:
1. The importance of trust
Whether you’re a recent college graduate, as I was, or a professional transitioning careers or industries, a steep learning curve is a prerequisite for success. Choosing a partner that you unconditionally trust will melt away the kinds of inhibitions that come along with a lack of confidence in peers and mentors.
2. Shared vision and expectations
It’s critical to communicate about the objectives for the business venture prior to entering into any type of relationship. If your cousin is aspiring to build the best local neighborhood pizza shop, utilizing your family recipe, but you are looking to create the next national pizza chain and dethrone Papa John’s, you’re almost certainly destined for failure.
3. Keeping pace
A common problem among business partners is the resentment that may arise when one party outworks the other. The advantage of working with a family member is that you know his or her work rate and have a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to ensure you are partnering with someone whose work ethic mirrors your own.
Every decision you make as a business owner is a reflection of your values. Family members often share similar values as a result of growing up in the same household, so you are significantly more likely, going into a business relationship, to already have a firm understanding of what those values are and whether they align with your own.
5. A true caring
Research has shown that retention at family-run businesses is better, on average, than that at comparison companies. Much of the reason is the culture that comes along with a company run by family members who care more about their coworkers -- and the mission at hand -- than they care about themselves. Going into business with a family member is a great jumping off point to expedite that type of caring within an organization.
Twelve years later, I’m a CEO at that same company, which I now co-own with my best friend from college. I still work side-by-side with my brother every single day and even brought my sister on to the team several years ago. The opportunity to work, day-in and day-out, with my best friends and family has altered my life in truly inspiring ways. I highly recommend it.