Recap: Stephanie Brun de Pontet: Tips for Next Generation Family Members Joining the Business
ByFamily Business RadioonMarch 22, 2012
Stephanie Brun de Pontet
On Thursday, March 22, 2012, family business consultant Stephanie Brun de Pontet joined Family Business Radio host Dwayne Samples to offer tips to next generation family members preparing to enter the family enterprise.
As a senior associate of The Family Business Consulting Group, Inc., Stephanie often helps family enterprises through important transitions, such as the on-boarding on new family member employees.
has experience working with sibling teams, establishing governing structures for growing enterprises, and developing training programs to educate next generation family members.
The 20 advisors of The Family Business Consulting Group
, a Chicago-based firm, help families in business unify their values and goals while guiding them in the development of structure around the different systems of ownership, management and family.
They work with family businesses and families who have shared wealth in the U.S. and internationally.
came to work with family businesses after spending time both in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur.
grew up as part of a family business-though her
immediate family did not work in the business daily-and she
married into a family business.
She became passionate about the world of family enterprises and added a PhD in psychology to her business degree so she could work better with both the business structures and the family dynamics unique to family-held firms.
shared with Family Business Radio listeners, she
comments on an article she
co-wrote with colleague Carol J. Ryan.
Published by The Family Business Advisor®, a Family Business Consulting Group, Inc.® Publication, the article is entitled "Should I call you DAD?
And other perils of working for your family business...."
says that entering the family's business is a paradox, with the good things about working with family also leading to challenges and pitfalls.
Like many of the questions that arise when a new family member arrives in the business, the issue of how to address other family members at work is "it depends," according to Stephanie
The important thing, she
says, is for the family to think through the issues, have conversations, and plan for the best ways to handle situations.
pointed out that all employees mess up sometimes, but with family members, other people remember those gaffes longer.
To handle living under the weight of coworker and family scrutiny, Stephanie
says that employees have to set higher standards for themselves.
It's also important for the parents to set clear expectations.
She says parents shouldn't make working in the business too difficult, but give the newcomers an opportunity to succeed.
If they mess up now, employees will remember a long time, and it will be more difficult for them to succeed in a leadership position later.
Another means of offsetting the hard scrutiny is to have the coming-of-age family member work two to five years in another company before joining the family business.
says this is one of the few recommendations her
firm makes universally, and she
says many family businesses actually require the young family members to prove themselves by earning a promotion at another business before joining the family enterprise.
has observed in many next generation family members, particularly those ages 25 and under, the concept of privacy and confidentiality has developed differently than in generations that didn't grow up with the openness of social media.
Yet family member employees are learning more than their counterparts as they are preparing to become owners of the business.
They have to be careful about what information they reveal.
Also, if they happen to make disparaging remarks about their supervisors, other employees or family members, those remarks carry more weight than similar comments made by non-family members.
Going out to Friday happy hour with fellow employees carries a different burden than it does for non-family members.
says the key here is to be deliberate.
Think ahead about the situations that may arise-questions, remarks about the family and wealth, potential romantic relationships with employees-and consider how those will be handled.
says the family member needs to think "three steps ahead" about how anything he
says will be received.
admits this is a lot for someone of any age to handle, but particularly for young family members.
She shared a story from one family business in which the family wanted to help a young member avoid some of the pitfalls of being a new employee with the family name.
went to work in a store outside of his
community, under an assumed name.
did avoid some of the scrutiny he
might have encountered early on, the solution was not perfect.
still faced the same issues when he
returned to work in the home office under his
He also faces the concern about revealing the deception later, when he assumes a leadership role in the company and his former coworkers realize what occurred.
says that founders, next generation members and other employees alike need to remember that the business is growing and changing.
Second generation family members most likely need different skill sets than the founders to keep the company going.
Rather than trying to be just like the founders, they need to apply their unique personalities and leadership qualities in a different way.
Parents need to understand that different skills are needed as the company changes, and children need to understand that doing things in a new way is not disrespectful to their parents.
As an example, Stephanie
explained that company founders are generally entrepreneurial.
They're outgoing by nature and have excellent sales capabilities, qualities that were needed in the early days of the business.
says the parents may be concerned that the next generation members are not as gregarious.
often points out to them that as the company has grown, it needs more structures and systems.
says that many founders build their businesses based on family values that employees share.
From an early age, family members need to be taught how important the employees are to the business; working members should always speak positively of employees so younger family members learn to respect and appreciate them.
When next generation family members come of age, they're more likely to be humble, appreciative of employees and ready to pull their own weight as they enter the business.
discussed two extreme cases of family members relating to employees.
In the first, family members might try too hard to fit in with employees.
says this is probably a case of the family member being unsure of him- or herself and not quite ready to be part of the business.
Yes, everybody is watching, but family members should still have the confidence to be themselves.
This might be a situation where the family member should work outside the company first to gain confidence, feel they've earned a place in the company and become truly ready to work and collaborate.
At the other end of the spectrum are family members whose attitudes scream, "Do you know who I am?
These are people who are driven by entitlement, and Stephanie
says this attitude is the single most toxic poison for a family business.
Sometimes, the symptoms are more subtle.
Stephanie gave the example of a young third generation family member who had recently had a child.
The family had accommodated her
by allowing her
to set her
own schedule, but she
still was consistently late to work.
non-family member supervisor had to watch her
carefully and couldn't rely on her
to be there for the schedule she
had set for herself.
then complained to her
grandmother-the wife of the company founder-that she
should be allowed to come in whenever it suited her
best, as long as she
got the work done.
actions not only put her
supervisor in a difficult situation, but also demonstrated that she
doesn't have a full understanding of her
While technically she
could complete the work at odd hours, the family leaders want her
to understand the responsibility that comes with her
position in the family.
says that situations like this are part of a difficult journey, but provide life lessons that will serve the family member well in and outside of the business.
also used the story to illustrate the importance of carefully choosing supervisors for family members.
says, family members will be supervised by non-family members.
If that's not possible, they should not be supervised by siblings or parents (let parents be mentors, not bosses, she
Realizing that other employees and even people in the community expe