Entering the Family Business – Working Your Way Up or Landing in Management

Hazing in the Family Business

I’ll never forget my first day in our family business when I had completed my morning shift and took a break for lunch.  The warehouse manager asked me if my father was going to take me out for the customary steak lunch for all new hires.  I went upstairs, walked into my father’s office and told him I was ready to go for my steak lunch. He looked at me with a confused stare and told me he never takes a new employee out for lunch on the first day. His confused stare was only matched by the laughter of the warehouse manager when I returned to my post after lunch. I realized I had been hazed by the warehouse manager as part of the ritual for new employees.

What job positions do family members assume when they first enter the family business?

Some of us come in at the bottom of the organization chart in a line position and work their way up, while others land into management level positions and take control more quickly. Here are some of the differences:

Working your way up from the bottom:

  • Learn all the job functions within the organization
  • Build a strong relationship with all employees
  • Better relate to problems and issues in later management positions
  • More well-liked within the organization
  • Perception of “earning” a position in the company
  • Can be hard to establish a leadership position later with older employees

Entering the business into a management position:

  • Opportunity to gain outside experience in another company
  • Allows for an advanced degree education before entering the business
  • Established and perceived as a manager from the start
  • Better delegating skills because they lack the hands-on skills
  • Feelings of nepotism may undermine their role

I entered our family business from the bottom working in a warehouse position.  I worked for several years in different staff positions throughout the company and gained valuable experience. But before moving into management, I worked in a separate smaller division with two other employees, which helped to position me to re-enter the company at a higher management level.

One of the issues with working your way up, is the tendency to become too close to those that you may be managing later. You have to resist the temptation to get involved in any negative talk or criticism of the company with other employees. Like a politician, it can come back to haunt you later.

You never know when relationships with other non-family employees are genuine or just because you have the same last name as the founder.

You walk a thin line when you work your way up through the ranks in a family business.  You want to be friendly with the other employees alongside you, while not being too close to jeopardize your standing later in a management position.

It can be hard to shed the earlier perceptions of being a younger employee and earn respect later, especially with older employees.

The Best of Both.

One way to avoid this is to gain experience working in an outside company before entering a management position. This gives you the experience of working your way up in staff positions and gaining outside experience with another company before entering management.

Setting the Example.

Family businesses sometimes receive the unfair reputation for being playgrounds for family members who can’t find jobs and safe havens for people who share the same last name. In our family business and the majority of family businesses this can’t be further from the truth. Yes, there are family businesses whose family members abuse the privilege of these coveted jobs, but these are few and far between.

In our business, as well as the vast majority of family businesses, we were brought up through the company to set the example for the rest of the employees. We sacrificed a lot, working longer hours than most, starting from the bottom and working our way up, taking less vacation time, driving less flashy cars, among other things.

Oh yah, and getting hazed by your parents the first day on the job.