I was in a conversation the other day when the topic of having family and friends in business with you came up. For small family businesses, especially places like restaurants, it isn’t surprising to see siblings and two or three generations working side-by-side. In really successful situations, a son or daughter might then branch out to open a second location. The flip side to that are the sons and daughters who when given the opportunity, go into an entirely different line of work precisely because they did “grow up” in something that they decided wasn’t the right path. In fact, if you remember the great scene between Peter Boyle as the father and Bill Pullman as the son from the movie, “While You Were Sleeping,” the character of Bill Pullman finally got up the nerve to explain that he didn’t want to continue in the family business only to have his father tell him he wished he’d known earlier because someone was asking to buy him out.
Anyway, the real point of the post goes back to when I retired from the Army and went to work for a small services and technology firm. I say small – that’s how they started and grew to the point that a Fortune 500 company acquired them. That, however, is another story. At some stage as they were hiring larger numbers of people, the comment was made about them hiring relatives and friends. The wife part of the co-founders said, “Yes. Who would you like us to hire – strangers and enemies?”. The reality is that I have absolutely nothing against family and friends with the clear understanding that they have to be the best qualified for the job or at least highly qualified. They must also be willing to recognize that they probably need to work a bit harder to overcome the perception that they’re getting away with stuff that others wouldn’t be allowed to. It isn’t fair, but it is a normal human reaction. The problem comes when it’s obvious that an individual is either not fully qualified or has an attitude that’s difficult for other employees to deal with. The smirking, “You can’t do anything about this,” can quickly translate into the loss of good employees who don’t need that kind of thing in their lives. Other employees might not be in a position to leave, but aren’t as effective as they otherwise could be. Working together as family and friends can be great, but it isn’t the right arrangement for everyone.