When my Dad asked me if I wanted to “come along and see what you think” to a client leadership event back in 2014, I would have laughed if you had told me that 8 years later, we’d still be working together and that I would be in the process of taking over as Managing Director of the business. He certainly never intended RISE to be a family business, and I never intended to work in one, and yet here we are, in this period of transition, and it has given me pause for thought.
We’re not a family business in a traditional sense, the company is relatively young, founded in 2012, and so we don’t have the legacy of multi-generational leadership, nor did I grow up with the expectations and responsibility of being born into a family business. We’re also fairly small, so we don’t (yet) experience too much of the tensions and challenges presented by significant value and multi-family stakeholders. But, we do have family dynamics at play within the organisation, and the work dynamic at play within our family. This is unique to family businesses, and something that is full of possibility as much as it is challenge.
Creating separation between home life and work-life
This is hard for anyone, particularly when 80% of the job is “wfh” and is made even harder when your dad is in your meetings. I remember I used to be so strict at only calling him Simon in work contexts to try to create a way to distinguish between our professional and familial relationship. I’m sure there were many colleagues that may have wondered, why don’t you just call him Dad?
Another example of this tension was when I found out I was pregnant again, (on the day I returned from maternity leave!) and worrying about how I was going to tell Dad that whilst gaining another grandchild, he was also going to lose the person that leads the operations of the business, again. The two realities were interconnected and inseparable, and joyful and challenging.
Likewise, during family time, we aim to respect boundaries and choose not to talk about work. The shadow of this well-meaning intention however is that at times, other family members may have felt alienated from our “other relationship,”. I remain thoughtful about how this might be done more skilfully going forwards.
Establishing credibility and fighting with nepotism
I have benefited from privilege throughout my life, including opportunities for shadowing and gaining experiences through my family’s network, so it might only be natural to worry that I might be seen as a product of nepotism, and not be taken seriously when I decided to join the business. Whilst this insecurity remains, I think it has been a driver for working hard and becoming excellent at what I do, in my own right.
I remember the identity shift and surge of confidence that came about by changing my last name post marriage, (helped by the fact it coincided with completing my Master's) but, all of a sudden not being automatically identified as related felt liberating. I could now choose when I wanted to disclose the information about “working with my dad” and when I didn’t.
Working with a unique position of power
From day one, my presence in a group and the reality of my position, have meant I’ve always been wary, and curious, about what people choose to say and what they don’t when I am present. There have been many times when people have come with feedback because they know I have my dad's ear, and I’m sure lots of times when they haven’t because they don’t want something getting back to him! I have also found myself (and failing at times) being careful with what I choose to disclose, and what I don’t. Of course, this is the human experience in any group dynamic, but in this context, I have always been quite conscious of the power and impact my voice and presence might have.
As I reflect on some of these tensions and note the times when it has felt tricky, I am also aware, given my experience of working with clients where there are occasionally some even trickier dynamics, I am very lucky. I have always felt supported by all my colleagues at RISE, of which my dad is one of them; and it feels a real privilege to have such a meaningful working relationship with a family member. Who knows what this next chapter for us may bring, but I am immensely grateful for the invitation to help shape RISE and the experiences and friendships it has given me over the years.
Over 45% of our clients are family businesses, and given our own dynamic and experiences, we are well-placed to help family businesses navigate the unique challenges they face. If you'd like to hear more or speak to us about your family business needs, we'd love to chat.