- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 21, 2003

Mom and Dad had dreams of Junior being the next CEO or, on a smaller scale, running the shoe store for the next 30 years. Junior’s plans, however, include being a dentist, an artist, a teacher — anything but working in the family business. It is a situation many families face, says James Lea, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who runs a Web site devoted to solving family business conflicts.

“In the best of all worlds, this decision does not come as a surprise,” Mr. Lea says. “Hopefully, when you get to this point, it completes a process that has been started early on.”

If Junior comes to the decision that the family business is not for him, he should make his decision clear, Mr. Lea says. Because that business likely supported the family — enabling the children to get the education and pursue the interests that led to this decision — it is best to not to deride the company.

“Approach it in a positive way,” he says. “Don’t go in saying, ‘I wouldn’t work in your crummy business.’ Instead, say, ‘I can contribute moral support for the rest of the family.’”

Saying what you can do is part of being clear about your role, Mr. Lea says.

“A lot of times, people in this situation hesitate to be perfectly clear,” he says, “but it will hurt more if you are not.”

A lot of emotions are tied to entering or not entering the family business, says Ira Bryck, director of the Family Business Center at the University of Massachusetts. The center is one of about 100 university-based groups that serve as resources for family-owned businesses.

Mr. Bryck also has written three plays about being in a family business. The plays are based partly on his own experience running his family’s children’s clothing store on Long Island.

His personal story is similar to that of many owners of small family businesses. For four generations, his family owned and operated the store. Mr. Bryck had to make the tough decision to close the store in 1993 after competition from national chain stores became too stiff.

Some people grow up feeling that the family business was a place they could go when all else fails, Mr. Bryck says. So often, if they do find themselves there, they feel they somehow failed.

“I do see a lot of people in family businesses who feel failed,” he says. “They feel they have fallen into the safety net.”

If a family business is in your future, Mr. Bryck advises doing some soul-searching. For instance, selling furniture or making pizzas may have been your father’s passion. However, don’t feel guilty if it is not yours.

“A lot of people who start a business usually love it,” he says, “but there is no reason to think you will. Life is short. If someone does not have the passion for the business, it can always be sold. The money would probably be better off in the stock market, and then the person can get a job they like.”

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