What Not to Do if You Join Your Family Business

Getting involved in the family business can have lots of consequences if you take the wrong approach, especially if you become the CEO.

Mother-and-daughter business owners sit at a conference room table and look at a tablet.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“I have been asked — ‘strongly urged’ is more accurate — to join our family business as a senior manager, becoming its CEO very soon. We manufacture paint and commercial coatings and have done so for almost 50 years, my father being the current CEO. I studied business at university and worked summers in the company, but I do not have my father’s hard-driving, business is my life personality. I’ve read every book you reviewed on leadership but have strong doubts if this is for me. Still, I do not want to let my family down. Do you know of a book written by a CEO of a family business who talks in real, human terms about the reality that I am sure to face if I accept my dad’s request? Thanks, ‘Darren.’”

I sure do.

What does it mean to join and then run a family business?

“Our products have been in your mouth,” Julie Charlestein said with a broad smile during our Zoom interview, during which we looked at the issues Darren raised.

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She is the author of How to Lead Your Family Business: Excelling Through Unexpected Crises, Choices, and Challenges and the fourth-generation CEO of Premier Dental, a century-old global provider of dental products used in 75 countries.

Charlestein brings readers right into her daily reality with the most insightful and honest descriptions of what it means to join and then run a family business. During our interview, she outlined some things that Darren should NOT do if he joins the family business and becomes CEO. Do not do these six things:

1. Change everything all at once.

Consequences: Ultimately, changing too much at once minimizes your impact and decreases the buy-in, the loyalty, of your team so that you will not be able to call on that later. Instead, establish yourself as someone who listens. Ask them what, if anything, they feel could benefit from fine-tuning.

2. Rest on your name.

Consequences: Obviously, you are there because of your name. But do not rely on that to lessen your level of personal accountability. You should always strive to prove yourself. “For me, as a fourth-generation CEO,” Charlestein said, “I always wanted to work more than anyone else because I wanted people to see that I was working more.”

3. Say no when presented with opportunities.

Consequences: If your knee-jerk reaction is always to say “no,” this is very dismissive, and you risk making people think that you think you know everything. Instead, come from a place of yes, to see what the possibilities are, rather than shut things down right away. “You want and need people to know that you value their input,” Charlestein said.

One of the nicest things a CEO can hear is, “Boss, you might not accept my suggestions, but you take the time to listen, and I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel.”

4. Let yourself be intimidated by what you don’t know.

Consequences: It is normal to feel a bit intimidated if you’re surrounded by people in the business who have much more experience than you do. But do not let it show. Do your homework. Read whatever you can about the technical aspects of the business, watch videos, attend seminars, visit websites, and gradually you will pick up the jargon and be able to intelligently participate.

Also, always be aware of your appearance and body language during a meeting or presentation you are attending. Good posture actually can create the feelings of confidence you hope to portray. Stay relaxed, make good eye contact, smile and convey the impression that you are happy to be there. All of these factors directly negate the image of someone who is intimidated by others in the room.

5. Fool yourself into believing that work-life balance is possible.

Consequences: You will chase something that does not exist in reality. A “family business” does not necessarily mean “family-friendly.” As part of a family business, you will not escape the universal problem of figuring out how to lead an organization while also finding time to be a responsible, caring and deeply engaged spouse, parent or family member.

It is a problem with no solution. The truth is that if you are truly committed to leading a business — especially a family business — you must dedicate a level of time and energy on the job that makes deep personal connections incredibly difficult to maintain.

You will spend some evenings at the office instead of having dinner with the family. School concerts and plays will be missed, romantic dinners with your significant other will be postponed, family holidays will be cut short. This is the reality you will deal with, and the sooner you realize and accept that, the better.

6. Join the family business for the wrong reasons.

Consequences: You could end up being miserable if you allow yourself to be pestered into joining. Or maybe you think it is the path of least resistance, or you feel you owe it to your family because they have expected you to join since you were a small child. Regardless of the reason, if you’re not fully committed to the family business when you join it, then your dividend will be resentment.

How to Lead Your Family Business should be required reading for all business administration and MBA students. It is just filled with so much practical, useful information. I could not put it down, and that, folks, says something.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."