Hey folks, this marks my first post here. Mike and Mark, your work on MT has changed my life. Unfortunately, in some ways it has taken my stress level through the roof, as well...

BLUF: As a member of the "management team" of a small business, how can I cope with a CEO father with limited skills, who is almost at war with our "outsider" Operations Manager, whose skills and ideas I find I agree with more frequently?

Okay, so this problem was next to impossible to BLUF, and of course it really doesn't capture the whole issue, but I really don't know where to start. Please accept my apologies if I get long-winded here:

I'm almost 30 years old, the third generation of a family business of which my dad is still President and CEO. It's a small business, but in 35 years my father has grown the business beyond his means to manage it well. Three years ago, he hired a manager to come in and turn our downslide around. Between Dad and the OM, there's me: a guy who's passionate for the business, has the biggest head for IT in the building, and who is generally respected for my experience and talents. I guess you could say I'm being "groomed" to lead the charge soon.

Neither my father, the OM, or I have any formal training in management. However, of the three of us, I am the only one looking deeper and trying to train myself in better technique at the moment. The MT casts have been an absolute godsend to me, as well as have works by Peter Drucker and Jim Collins, and my appetite for knowledge knows no limits anymore. And herein lies the problem:

In my role in the company, I have:
No authority,
No directs,
No team of my own,
No ground on which to gain any traction.

I swear, our org chart has me stuck out on the side somewhere, all alone with one of my many useless titles tagged on.

I'm doing everything but jumping up and down, waving my arms and screaming, "I Want Responsibility! I Need Responsibility! Give Me Feedback! Give Me Resources! I Can Prove I Can Do This!!!"

And what do I get? An attaboy and a pat on the shoulder. Encouragement and respect for my accomplishments, sure. Yet I still feel like a cabinet maker, with tools hanging all over the walls of the workshop, standing around and wishing he had some wood.

This has become a ridiculous rant, and I apologize. Maybe there's a real question buried in there somewhere. If there isn't, then I'll just thank you all for the time you took to read this post and be on my way. If anyone has experience in dealing with familial relationships in business, I'd be honored to have any insight you'd care to share.

Again, sorry about the length of this, and thanks for reading.


MikeK's picture

[quote="Hoofer70570"]I'm doing everything but jumping up and down, waving my arms and screaming, "I Want Responsibility! I Need Responsibility! Give Me Feedback! Give Me Resources! I Can Prove I Can Do This!!!"[/quote]
I can't say anything first hand about your situation Andre since it is a family business but this statement above seems that you might think you are doing enough to get that responsibility but to me it seems you are not. You NEED to be jumping up and down and screaming by the sounds of it. Obviously not literally, but have you had these discussions at this same level of honesty with the others in your org?

Personally, I think people don't step out of their comfort zone enough to take on challenges that interest them in order to earn experience and respect, which in turn makes those actions and results GET noticed. Until you are doing it, others don't see it. Its simple.

Good luck!!

bradleymewes's picture


Your post is very familiar to me. I too work in a family business. My father is the founder CEO and I too am being groomed to take over. I am 25 years old. My father and the production manager both have no formal management experience, other than the school of hard knocks, and believe me, I think that school is worth more than 10 formal management degrees (more about that later).

I would very much like to speak with you more, so I hope you read this post and shoot me an email. I live in southern california and one of my personal projects for the upcoming year is to create a group of young executives and managers in small and medium sized businesses that face similiar issues, such as this. Our fathers learned things the hard way, and often times painful way. I want to learn more things with less pain and I think relying upon a group of individuals with similiar chalenges would be a great way to do so.

I faced a similiar situation to you approximately a year ago. I had the title, but no real responsibility. My job title and job duties did not match. In fact, I had no title. Everyone knew I was the son of the owner, that I worked hard, that I did my job well, and that I was smart. But other than that I had no real oversight or management roles. I was not directing any real part of the business. As a result I was very unhappy and frustrated with the business, which affected my personal life as well.

Realizing this, I made a conscience effort to change that. See, the great thing about our position is that if we decide to do something, there is nobody in our organization who is going to tell us no unless it is some sort of stupendous misjudgement. I realized that while I THOUGHT like an owner, I did not ACT like an owner. I would see things that I did not like but I would do or say nothing to change them. I would just sit on the sidelines and grumble.

Much like the previous post reccomended, actions are needed. The first time you take the action you will be scared of rejection, but just do it, no one will stop you. Formulate a plan and set in motion. Your father and operations manager will respect you more for it.

Hoofer70570's picture

Hey folks, thanks so much for the replies and encouragement. I've been away from the boards for a couple of days, and re-reading my first post was almost embarrassing. I think I came across like a whiny brat, and I apologize for that. It's not usually my style.

To Mike K: I've been communicating these feelings pretty openly with upper management and a few of my peers for a while now. I do acknowledge, though, that I have an issue with talking more than acting. Fears about overstepping boundaries have kept me from doing much more than observing, planning, conceiving new workflows, pitching new ideas, and the like. Those things really aren't measurable actions, and I appreciate your observation on that.

To Bradley: It's very relieving to know that I'm not the only one in this boat. I think your idea about forming a community of "folks like us" is a great one, count me in! I'd love the chance to have a dialogue with people who really get where I am, and it sure sounds like you do. I'll be PM'ing you my personal email address in a moment.

To Mark & Mike: Just wanted to thank you guys again for all the great work, and for giving us a forum like this one. Even though I've just started visiting here, I've been a listener and fan (if there is such a thing, for something as unsexy as management) for quite a while now, and shared several of your podcasts with my OM. I know I can learn a lot more from both you and the community here.


cbarclay's picture

Hello everyone. This is also my first post. Like the previous posters, I'm also in a Family Business, although I've made it past the threshold from son to owner.

I had the same problems with trying to fit in to the structure of our organization and try to make a positive difference. Now that I'm the owner/president, there are many new challenges. I went from being involved in everything, making recommendations on everything, but being ultimately responsible for nothing, to responsible for everything. It's actually quite the jump going from being involved in every aspect of a business to actually being responsible for every aspect of a business.

Count me in to the club as well. I think there is a lot we can learn from our peers, and that's why we're all listening to Manager Tools.

I'm sure I'll be posting more soon to discuss the many challenges I've been facing, and I look forward to reading yours as well.


bradleymewes's picture

Chad and Andre,

It is very exciting to hear your responses and to see that there is a community of people who share similiar experiences. When I originally came up with the idea of creating a group of young entreprenuers and executives I assumed it woud be a local group of a few associates of mine. Now I can see that we it can indeed be much larger than that.

Chad- I would very much like to hear more from you, especially about the transition phase between being involved on a daily basis to becoming [i]responsible[/i] for the entire business. I am quickly approaching that point and at times I feel extremely privelidged and excited, and at other times completely unprepared for the road that lies ahead of me.

Also, if either of you know of others who have similiar backgounds as us it would be great to include them in. Chad, email me and we can begin more constant communication.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


Glad to hear our members helping each other. I've never thought I'm the only one around here with answers...though I do have my share.

My perspective: I've started or helped start 4 businesses as an owner, and helped someone else build one significantly as the heir apparent.

With that, some thoughts:

- Andre, you say almost nothing supportive about what your dad has built. That worries me. Starting a business is incredibly hard. You walk in every day with a thousand problems on the floor, and you must wade through them to get to what you believe - not what you know, not what the books tell you (because they don't), not what others think (because they all have their own agendas) - to what you believe is the best thing to do that day. This is hard, hard work. It deserves respect. I recommend that respect come in the form of being polite, happy, and praise-ful of what others have accomplished.

- Your dad may not have all the skills you think are needed. He may know that he doesn't. And still, I can see myself taking his side in many situations: it's his company. There are folks who gave me grief about how hard I was on my kids for years...and now I have the coolest kids around. There are also people telling me how to run my company... and many of them have never run their own. Making payroll by getting cash advances from your credit card changes you. It's to be admired. Not getting a salary one month, and promising to pay back petty cash to buy oatmeal for yourself, and putting groceries for your kids on a personal credit card... that's a lesson that cannot be learned in a book.

- I bet there were days before you worked there that your dad sat behind his desk when everyone else had long since gone home and cried his eyes out, wondering how he was going to make this thing work, and how ashamed he would be for not being able to take care of his family. That's not management: it's courageous leadership, and it's scary. Do stuff like that a few times - like your dad and I have - and you become thankful for management problems, as opposed to survival problems.

Find some moments to share your admiration for your dad with him.

- What to do? Work hard. Deliver great results repeatedly. Show your value to the bottom line - literally, do the math on a project. Keep your head down. Make your case, and cheerfully lose battles, and be overruled. Be so thrifty others joke about you being tight. Make recommendations, and be respectful when discussing. Come in early, stay late, and help with whatever you can. Recognize that your IT experience is likely unappreciated by your dad. Note that I didn't say under-appreciated.... IT is rarely a huge competitive advantage.

And, I think you're probably right about some of the stuff that needs to be done, but the image I will share with you is that of one of those finger puzzles, where you put your fingers in, and the harder you pull to get them out, the worse it gets. Don't yell or jump up and down, just do what you're asked, and some more, and be patient. If you're worried about the future of the firm, make your case and recognize you're not the owner.

And stop sharing other than with your dad and maybe the Ops guy. Nobody likes it when the founder's son complains. Just keep your own counsel there.

And when it's yours, think about how you can be more effective with your kids before you GRUDGINGLY hand over your "other" baby to them for them to husband dearly into the dangerous and unknowable future.


cbarclay's picture

I have to completely agree with Mark. Once I gave in to the fact that I was the owner’s son, and made commitments to myself to be the best possible asset to the company, I found myself with greater respect and direction with my role as son and future boss.

While new thoughts and ideas can bring new success to a business, you must understand what it took to get the business to where it is now. It was your dad who did this.

My parents started my company 30 years ago. For 30 years they poured themselves as their money into the business. They have gone through tough times and good times. I finalized my purchase of their company this past August. The purchase was a 10 year process, and like most sons of business owners, I've worked part time and full time at the stores my whole life. Now that I am the owner, I will endure my own tough times and good times, but I will never forget what it took to take a $1000 30 years ago, and turn it into a multi million dollar business today.

Andre, go give your dad a hug, and thank him for everything. Like Mark said, there will have been nights where he cried worrying about his family and his employees. It may be your future to take the business to new levels of success, for now keep your head up, and add as much value to the business as you can.