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Is Joining Your Family’s Business Right For You?

Family businesses are an object of pride for the families that run them. This pride gets even bigger when the business is really successful. And there’s the aura that grows around such ventures if they’ve been going on for generations.

Members of business owning families may be inspired to build upon the past successes of their forebears; they may savour the chance to get involved in the enterprise, and gladly seize the opportunity when it’s presented to them. But for many people, the almost sacred tradition that comes with their family’s business is too heavy a load to bear. They’d rather flee its suffocating presence; so they opt for a corporate job elsewhere or start their own business.

If you’re from a family that runs a business, you’ve probably considered (or might be considering) joining the venture at some point. Your decision to pursue family legacy or do your own thing might be affected by the stance of older relatives. Sometimes, family members expect younger relatives to sustain the business’s legacy by succeeding them when they’re deemed mature or qualified to do so. Or they may be more liberal and may let their children pursue different career paths. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide.

But how do you choose? And what should determine your choice?

Here are four questions you should ask yourself, and other family members involved in the family business, before deciding whether to work there or not.

  1. Why join (or not join) the business?

The why question is recommended for persons looking to get hired by a corporation, and for anyone wanting to start their own business. You should also ask it if you’re thinking about having a career at your family’s business.

You need to understand what your motivations are. If your aim is to extend the positive strides made by your predecessors, you should have some idea what this would mean in actual fact. If the thought of joining the business makes you cringe or burdens you, try to find out why.

People taking up a role in their family’s business should be sure that their intentions fit with the business’s goals and ethos. If it doesn’t, or if they can’t find a purpose for having a job there, they might be better off working somewhere else.

  1. What sort of career path could you have?

What could your place at the company be in the next decade or two? Is there a good chance that you’ll be where you want to be in the long run? What opportunities for expansion or limitations to personal growth come with a job there? Can you realistically see yourself thriving with these possible realities?

The certainty with which you’re able to answer this question depends on your knowledge of the company, and whether its operating environment is stable enough to let you make fairly accurate predictions about its future. Be sure to have these things sorted out.

  1. Is there a succession plan?

KPMG, in its Nigerian Family Business Barometer report for 2017, says that 98% of family businesses agree that having a good succession plan for their top positions is important for their growth. But the report also notes that only 20% of these businesses actually have such a plan in place.

There’s a reason for the widespread apathy toward having a succession plan. Many family businesses in Nigeria operate in an informal way and tend to put far less planning into their processes than they should. As a result, roles and interests aren’t well defined, conflicts arise, and the business suffers.

You’ll certainly prefer to have your path to higher positions at the company defined in clear terms, and documented for reference sake. This helps cut out needless succession-related turmoil.

  1. Is the company open to innovative change?

The age of disruption compels us to be open to reinventing ourselves and changing the way we do business. It’s the way to survive in today’s fast-paced world.

Unfortunately, many family businesses have found it difficult to adapt to this reality. They’re stuck with the rigidity of the past and despise the flexible management styles and tech-driven innovations that are the staple of the contemporary business model. The markets punish them for this; many have met their end as a result.

Ensure that you’re not setting yourself up for a fall. Honestly examine the business’s readiness to adjust to the demands of today’s world. What is the prevailing attitude, within the company, to the rapidly evolving environment around it? Is it excited, receptive, lethargic or resistant? If it’s the first two, you probably have a promising situation to work with. If it’s the latter two, you should either work out ways to convince the decision makers to embrace innovative change or simply just turn your sights to a different, more forward-looking place.


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Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.



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