Following in Father’s (or Mother’s) footsteps

Some time back I got a call from a researcher on the Richard Bacon Show on Radio 5 Live completely out of the blue. I recall it was around the time during the MPs’ expenses row and the issue they were focussing on was employing family members. The researcher had found something on my blog about the work I have done with young people during their job search and wanted to know if I would take part in a phone in.

Once I got my head round the fact that someone was phoning me from a BBC radio station ( my only other time this had happened was when I took part in Pop the Question, the quiz that Johnny Walker had on Radio 1 in the early 70s!) I got into a discussion with the researcher.

The question was something like
“Is joining the family business an easy option?”
And my answer had to be –categorically – no.

My experience from working with clients and chatting with parents and their offspring over the years has shown me that there is a lot to consider before deciding to follow a parent into a career.

Apart from the issue of living up to their reputation – or living it down in some cases – I believe we should be encouraging our young people to consider what they are already good at and where their talents lie as and when they make studying and career choices. (In fact that ‘s something I would advocate for everyone making career choices. )
Of course the advantage of going into the same field is that the parent might have contacts who can give a bit of a hand in making connections and introductions.

But increasingly through professional social networks like Linkedin friends and family can open up new networks in all sorts of areas. The old saying “It’s not what you know but who you know” is just as relevant in 2011 than it has ever been but new networking tools mean that those who take advantage of those and use them wisely can “open their own doors” to the future.

There are of course some people who are happy to keep up the family tradition in a trade or profession and thrive on it.

But I have come across too many people who engage me as their coach when they want to change careers because they have become disenchanted and when I ask them what attracted them to that job in the first place tell me it was because of pressure from their parents. I would like to think that this is a thing of the past but I still hear parents talking about their children’s study choices through their own “lens” .

By the way – what I had to say was clearly not interesting enough to actually be invited onto Richard Bacon’s show…but it was nice to be considered!

3 Comments on Following in Father’s (or Mother’s) footsteps

  1. A problem with family companies is often the difficulty of seperating personal and business discussions. While obviously this can lead to hurt and misunderstanding souring the personal relationship of equal importance can be the reluctance to engage in difficult business discussions for fear of causing upset. One option can be the use of powerful non executive directors but another one that is perhaps underutilised is to engage a mediatior to act as a neutral to manage a full debate around long term planning or corporate succession. A child may as you say feel pressurised into joining a family business or into carrying on in the same way as the revered parent when actually they want to pursue something different. There can also be disagreements between siblings while parents may make incorrect assumptions as to the desires of the children. A mediator can ensure that the difficult issues are addressed without any party feeling “got at” and can raise issues that the parties may not feel comfortable in putting forward first.

    • I think that this is a good idea. I wrote a piece in this month’s mag about a family business known to me and there were a few times when I thought that they could do with the business equivalent of a marriage guidance counsellor.

  2. Mmmm – “sins of the father” still seems to be a strong influence. There is a decreasing relevance of the skills, motivations and techniques that our parents worked with. Every generation has an underlying dissatisfaction with the following one just as the new generation has a fundemental requirement to “do things differently” from their parental generation – this is increasingly influential in family business as the “influencers” are permanently around. WE do not seem to have made that great a job of it! Maybe its time for us to move aside and give the new generation more scope and trust – they are not all hoodies!

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