- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Thousands of college graduates won’t be looking for work this summer — they’ve gotten jobs in their parents’ companies.

Many small-business owners are eager to hire their children. They’re getting employees they know they can trust, and it can be rewarding to teach and learn from sons and daughters. Many dream of passing the business on to their children someday.

But, of course, there are pitfalls.

A small-business owner must learn how to balance being a boss and a parent — how to have a business as well as a personal relationship with a child. The needs of other employees, and the company itself, also must be considered.

Denyse Selesnick says that even after working with her daughter, Stephanie, for 10 years, she sometimes struggles with letting go of the role of a parent.

“Every generation, we know better than the kids … we know everything,” said Mrs. Selesnick, president of International Trade Information Inc., a company in Woodland Hills, Calif., that organizes trade shows.

Yet, Mrs. Selesnick also realizes that her 40-year-old daughter has matured in her work; she has become more responsible and more knowledgeable about the business.

“She’s now my partner,” Mrs. Selesnick said.

Bobby Knell, who owns an American Leak Detection franchise in Dallas, has found many pluses from working the past two years with his son, Will.

“You have someone you can rely on who has high integrity and a good work ethic,” Mr. Knell said. “If you brought your child up properly, he’s going to have all those things.”

But not every parent-and-child business relationship works out. To succeed, parents and children need to rise above family dynamic or learn to use them in a constructive way, said Joseph Astrachan, a professor of family business at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

“Parents are rarely honest with kids about what their weaknesses are. It’s OK in a family, but in a busines it’s a killer,” he said.

“Some dads are so scared and grew up having to take care of themselves and the family, so they’re defended against insecurity and anxiety and need to control everything,” Mr. Astrachan said. To succeed in the family business, a child would have to learn how to deal with such a difficult personality, he said.

Mrs. Selesnick said she has learned from working with her daughter to tread lightly. “You have to think about what you say very carefully,” she said. “You have to criticize in a positive way.”

Lee Harrell, who works with his wife, Deborah, and sons Todd, 30, and Scott, 25, at their three Home Instead Senior Care franchises in Florida, said that when there are disagreements, “we sit down as a family and decide in what direction we go.”

He also has tried to impress on his sons that when they leave the office, they should leave their business differences behind.

Business owners and their children also need to be sensitive to other employees.

Mr. Knell said his son, 26, was careful about how he approached co-workers.

“I don’t want to alienate them. I have to work with them,” Mr. Knell quoted his son as saying.

And Mr. Knell had turned down requests from his son because he didn’t want to play favorites. “I would say to him, ‘It’s not that I don’t want to do it. But if the others see it, they’ll expect the same.’”

Another complication can come from hiring more than one child. Sibling rivalries can take on a new dimension at the work place.

Mr. Harrell said each member of the family has a specific role within the business. He said of his sons: “What we had to do was really look at their strengths and what their areas of improvement needed to be.”

For parents considering taking a child into the business, Mr. Astrachan recommends thinking important issues through in advance, like one would for any new employee.

“Make it very clear what they’re going to be paid and what your minimum expectations are, and do not waver,” he said.

Sarabeth Grossman, 19, is just starting to work for her mother, Donna Gould, at Phoenix Media, Mrs. Gould’s public relations firm in Matawan, N.J. Mrs. Gould said she plans to treat her daughter as she would any employee in the same position.

“I don’t want to make it easy, because if I make it easy, it will make it harder for her later in life. She has to know the real world,” Mrs. Gould said.

Some business owners don’t want their children to cut their working teeth in the family firm and believe that getting some outside experience first is important. When Mr. Knell’s son asked to work at his franchise, Mr. Knell told him to spend a year at American Leak Detection’s corporate headquarters.

“Get a taste of the real world,” Mr. Knell told his son.


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