Family Business Wiki's Town Square

Family Business Wiki's TOWN SQUARE

There have been numerous studies  by specialists dissecting the post World War II “baby boomers”, and the successive new comers in the second half of last century. From the hippies, Vietnam war protesters, generation X, Y and all the other  letters so I have  nothing else to add on that subject.

However starting with  the new Millennium and at least in my practice in Mexico and Latin America plus a few U.S. Hispanic owned family businesses,  my own family and numerous young sons and daughters of my friends , I have been  confused with their thinking, attitudes towards everything and in certain cases shocked with their long term plans (or lack of them).

Many of us   come from parents and grandparents who being modest or even poor, experienced the booming postwar years, started their small businesses or had good jobs in the public or private sectors , were hard workers and graduated in college by means of the help of public financial aid, subsidies or low tuitions. We inherited their values, but not their  wealth, and kept on growing the businesses or having professional careers.

If we skip a few decades and enter  the XXI century we encounter a completely changed environment in many countries, at least in the middle and upper classes.

Our attitudes as parents towards our young  family members  are, to say the least, inconclusive, contradictory and with no definite focus. Questions arise such as:  How to react about their professional  life, their work habits , or long term plans? How can we help them financially without spoiling them too much (we are of course  guilty in advance since many of them were pampered as children, giving them  material things far beyond those we had to earn ourselves). Also, how we react to their emotional   relationships both in regard of marriage, having a family or living arrangements  and their plans in general?  No wonder the field of therapy is growing  worldwide

A few examples come to my mind: After attending  outrageously  expensive  colleges and  graduate schools, paid for, at least in my country and others in Latin America by their families, with very little debt for themselves ,our offspring decide to   experience life by traveling and  helping the needy. Others want to acquire culture and knowledge, explore their internal souls , foregoing attractive job offers and other ways to make a decent and independent life. They are against the  nine to five ( or more hours) work schedule they consider dictatorial and constraining to their freedom and look for alternative ways which are usually unpaid.

Of course there are exceptions and variations but, the panorama that makes us worry is one of lack of interest in “jobs which are boring, with discipline, schedules and rules” and they do not care if their activities are unpaid as long as they are satisfactory according to their dreams. Moreover, the sole idea of entering  the family business is out of the question to many of them, and a few would like to be the new Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates with the great software or app needed by their generation, doing  this , of course, with the proper financing of their parents or friends.

I hope I am not painting an unrealistic or catastrophic   panorama, and beg you to contradict or criticize me if I am wrong.

This situation has many basic causes, both within our nuclear family, trying to over-compensate our children for our past experience of living modestly within a tight budget, our strict or violent parents and to protect them from   harm. Our dilemma is the degree of support, freedom and understanding we want   to give our loved ones versus the limits that we find logical according to our principles and values. Tough question!!

The world now is, to say the least, chaotic. Several wars are still going strong, terrorism, drugs and  mental problems are  causing massacres and family breakups. Of course we don´t have, than God a global conflict or a Great Depression but our everyday life is quite convulsed. Add on the web revolution, smart phones and the lack of real personal communication and the panorama is even more difficult. And it looks that it is going to get worse in the near future.

There is a saying which states: “We have to give our offspring   ROOTS and then WINGS”  so they have basic moral values and family harmony so they may grow healthy and loved but then we ought to let them fly on their own to achieve their goals. It sounds beautiful in principle, but sadly it is not viable in many cases. Life is tough and we as parents will probably have to give them a little push so they can manage their livelihood in better conditions. Moreover, many families happen to be dysfunctional or downright dangerous and their “principles” are malignant and difficult to eradicate .

What can we do as consultants to assist  family businesses with the new generation ?

I would like to point among many others, these suggestions:

1.  Set  rules and limits: Families and enterprises are NOT  democracies. We have to set  codes of ethics and conduct,  reasonable limits to dangerous and/or unhealthy safety issues. Inside the family nucleus we  help our children achieve their goals with good education, health and resources but within reasonable limits. We have to communicate with them, hear their plans and complaints, be flexible but the final decision rests with us their parents or household heads. When they become  self  sufficient  then they can set their own rules.    

    At the company level, those members who wish to work there must adhere to the Family Protocol and internal procedures set for all employees, without exceptions. Certain benefits based on their status as family members should be limited, logical and separate from the company . For example, salaries and other benefits have to be set according to company personnel policies, and any extras could be given by their families, with moderation so as to not create an arrogant “junior”.  On the other hand,  harsher   than normal rules and  discipline to teach the son/daughter to be humble may backfire. Use common sense and follow the business main objectives.

2.  For those Millennium Generation children who wish to delay decisions regarding entering the company and wish to go meditate at a Nepal monastery , it is fine and we should respect their plans, but not without stating that they have to be achieved with their own resources and there is a probability that, upon their return circumstances may have changed. Setting time limits is advisable. I envy those adventurous people  who want to spend some time in complete freedom before acquiring work and family responsibilities, but there may be a dangerous time frame and a limit and they have to be  aware of this. Especially in the multi-family businesses where several generations of cousins co-exist and problems may arise if they are exceptions

3.  There will be young people who do not accept these rules and want to follow their own path. We have to respect their decisions (as long as they are not harmful to their health or the family harmony ), but they must be clear and  know that their  independence entails no subsidies or  benefits which if given freely would be unjust to the others and may ensure them a comfortable future with no risks attached. Families should be open to these cases but consistent in their actions so as not to create problems with the rest of the family.

I am convinced that we ought to go back to our roots, our traditions and basic principles, and base our lives on the healthy values of past generations, avoiding bad examples. We should strive to help this and other generations to be independent and productive with their own effort.  Financial aid should be limited on a case by case basis  to avoid creating young monsters. It is a difficult task in a turbulent environment but there is no alternative in sight.        

May 15 , 2014


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