jump to navigation

going to work for your dad December 4, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Lessons Learned.

cc-licensed photo by Larry Page

My father had exactly one post-college job in his entire life: he worked for his dad — my grandfather. It was a good job, though a hard one — he left for work at 5:30 every morning and got home at 5:30 every night, and had to work every other Saturday. He was tired a lot, and dirty, and he’s got some lingering injuries that are probably work-related, but we lived in the lower tier of upper-middle-class and we were, overall, pretty happy. Later, after my grandfather and his business partner retired, my dad became one-third owner of the business along with the partner’s two sons. And, finally, he retired as well. All in all, a normal life for a person born in the 1950s.

Things are a little different now. Kids are still working for their parents, but parents are in different types of jobs. Manufacturing and delivery are often done by bigger companies and corporations where nepotism only works when you’re the CEO. And in small companies, you can certainly hire your kids, but there’s a recession on. What happens when you have to cut staff? Do you fire your son or your daughter? Do you keep your family on staff even though you clearly have more talented employees not related to you?

Family restaurants, laundromats, and so forth are a different animal, so let’s leave those out for a minute and think about a couple of case-studies.

That Guy. Now, obviously I didn’t go to work for my dad, though I did sit in a couple of times at the office when one of the receptionists had to miss a Saturday. I never wanted to go into a physical-labor field (his company delivered and serviced restaurant equipment and supplies, and had been doing so since the early 1900s), but it was made clear to me that, if I needed to, I could go work for him.

I didn’t. I got a job at an office supply chain in high school, then went off to college and never went back home for anything more than a summer.

Because of the nature of the business, and because my dad retired and as part of that his partners bought out his third at a set price, contractually, I don’t know how the business is doing. I hear from time to time that they’re still making money, so that’s good. But what if they weren’t? What if I’d gotten hired and the business went south? Would I have lost my job because I was a newer employee, or would I have kept it because my dad was the boss? Would my dad have worked longer to make sure I had the dad-as-boss protection?

Plus, from a purely physical standpoint, my dad is a pretty strong guy. I’m not — I’m about average. I’m sure that lugging around equipment and making deliveries would’ve remedied that, but my dad is also very mechanically-savvy; he would often leave the management duties to his partners and go repair stuff in the shop out back. I think his employees liked him better than the other guys, but then, when the hammer needed to be brought down, it was my dad who did it. Could I have succeeded him? Probably not. Would I have been happy in the position? Definitely not.

And what about the money?

That brings us to case two.

cc-licensed photo by blmurch

Kyle. Kyle is a friend of mine who works for a small, family-owned jewelry shop. And when I say small, I mean small — they have four employees. There’s Henry (the owner), Beatrice (the owner’s wife), Lewis (another employee), and Kyle. Oh, and also me — I freelance for the store, doing their web development and keeping their catalog updated. Now, also important to note is that Henry and Beatrice have two children, Ramona and Robert. And that Ramona is married to Kyle.

You can see where I’m going with this.

Kyle got a job working for Henry some years back, when he and Ramona were just friends. But they recently got married. Now Kyle works for his father-in-law, in an industry that was fairly hard-hit by the recession — who’s going to buy jewelry, especially from a small, family-owned shop, when they can get something less expensive in the mall or at the jewelry exchange*? Now, before the wedding, Kyle faced a few pay cuts, but he’s still making good enough money to support himself and his wife, who currently works part-time while finishing her Master’s Degree.

What happens, though, if the jewelry industry takes a turn for the worse? What happens if Henry has to lay someone off? Sure, Kyle’s good at his job, but Lewis is a better salesman — do they fire Lewis (because Kyle supports their daughter) or do they fire Kyle (because Lewis will bring in more money and gets paid less anyway)? Can Henry in good conscience fire Kyle, knowing how it will impact his daughter? What if Kyle can’t find another job, and Ramona can’t find a full-time job? Will Henry just end up supporting them by letting them live in their house? (I’ve been there; Henry and Beatrice have a nice house with plenty of room now that Robert has moved into his own place.)

Quite a dilemma for Henry. Quite a dilemma for Kyle, who knows his job is secure as long as the company makes enough to pay his salary. And quite a situation for Lewis if Henry ends up having to make that decision.

So… knowing what you know, would you hire your son or daughter? His or her spouse? What about other relations — nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers, cousins, and so on? Most big companies have rules that relatives cannot supervise each other, and it’s a whole different issue as to what happens around promotion time. But in this economy, if you have no job and your parents get you one at their company, sometimes you (and they) just have to deal with the consequences.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

* I remember, as a kid, going to the jewelry exchange and being bored to tears. I wonder if people still go to those, or if they’re all out of business.

Note: My dad did not own or work at Doug’s Repair Shop. It’s just an example of what is likely to be a family-owned and keep-it-in-the-family kind of place.