There's often something larger than life about dads. While plenty of comedies and commercials feature hapless, bumbling fathers, in both popular culture and real life, doesn't almost everyone seem to be seeking their father's approval?
No matter that we're well into the 21st century, some men still side with tradition and ask their girlfriend's father for his OK before proposing to his daughter. The young man in the song "Cat's in the Cradle" craved his father's approval when he was younger. And when he realized Darth Vader was his father, even Luke Skywalker softened his stance on the guy. Maybe that's because, after all, Father Knows Best, as the popular 1950s sitcom reassured us.
So when fathers and their children go into business together, it can be a big deal—it might even change the shape of the father-child relationship. After all, if you're the dad, you've been the guy whose kids have been seeking his approval all these years. You're the wise, all-knowing one—or you've been faking it pretty well. Do you really want to showcase that when it comes to running a business, you're actually human and don't know everything?
It's a Family Affair
Still, for all the concerns and emotions intertwined with a dad and kid working together, some father-adult child businesses thrive quite nicely. For example, when Samuel C. Johnson founded his paste wax company in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1896, he did so as the sole owner. But things really picked up with after his son, Herbert, joined him as a partner in 1906 and the company was renamed S.C. Johnson & Son. Today, this very successful company remains privately owned by the Johnson family and is currently in its fifth generation of family ownership.
If you've ever thought of starting a business with your dad or adult child, in honor of Father's Day, let us offer three very good reasons why that might be a good idea:
1. You each have something the other doesn't. To get more work done and be more efficient, some entrepreneurs wish they could clone themselves. But when a parent and adult child team up together, it's even better. If you could clone yourself, you'd have double the amount of your strengths working for you, but you'd also have twice as many weaknesses working against you. The odds are better that your father or child has a valuable skill that you don't, one that could help add to the success of your venture.
In 2007, Tim Tassin started a business in Naples, Florida, with his older brother, Mike. Their company, Cabidor, sells an adjustable and retention rod system, which they created, that is designed to turn any door into storage space.
"About the same time, I began studying at the University of Florida," says Chris Tassin, Tim's son. "I started using the Cabidor concept in a lot of my class projects, helped contribute to the design of the product, and got really involved with it."
After seeing how passionate he was about the product, the Tassin brothers invited Chris to join them in the company. Tim says the decision made a lot of sense. As he explains, "We quickly realized the need for a tech-savvy, young brain to complement our fifty-something perspectives."
2. You'll always have each other's back. If you're going to own a business with anyone, it had better be someone you like. There are going to be long hours and a lot of high and lows. Why not choose a family member with whom you've already established a strong relationship?
When it comes to their working relationship, Chris says he loves working with his dad, and all that work time together helps their personal relationship as well. As Chris explains, "We communicate so much more than we would have otherwise."
As for Tim, he gets to interact with his son in a way that he never would have if they were thousands or even dozens of miles apart in separate offices, leading separate lives. The best thing about working with his son, Tim says, "[has been] recognizing how accomplished and smart he is ... Chris has a way of presenting his viewpoint that, quite often, causes me to rethink my position. We've developed a working relationship that is all business, working as equals, with the added level of respect that only a father and son can enjoy." Another bonus, Tim adds: "Absolute trust."
Brooks Mitchell, 70, concurs. "Unquestioned loyalty is a great balm for the tender spots that inevitably arise [in business]," Mitchell says. Mitchell, who started his company in 1999, is the founder of Snowfly, an employee incentive and recognition company in Laramie, Wyoming. He says he knows his son and partner, Tyler, always has his best interests at heart, and Mitchell is always in his son's corner. In fact, Mitchell admits there have been times when he's wanted to call out someone who stood Tyler up for an appointment or unjustly treated him—it's just what a dad would do.
3. You understand what you're getting in a business partner. "I knew exactly what kind of boss my dad was going to be when I started working for him," says Ashley Farrar, who first worked for her mom and dad at their two Tennessee-based Molly Maid franchises before buying into the franchise herself and becoming a co-owner with her dad of the Chattanooga location. Ashley says her parents have a lot of integrity, so she knew from the get-go that partnering with her dad, Scott, was going to be a good experience.
Of course, knowing what your parents or children are like doesn't guarantee that there won't be bumps in the road. For instance, before Brooks Mitchell's son, Tyler, joined his the firm and later became CEO, Brooks' daughter, Mollie, worked for him. Unfortunately, this father-child partnership didn't work out, though they parted ways peacefully.
"We quickly realized that this was a water-and-oil situation," Brooks says, "and Mollie moved on to another job."
Soon after Mollie started her own successful business in the charter school placement industry, "I received a phone message from her that said, 'Dad, now that I have my own company, I think I understand you,' " Brooks says.
Working with your dad or child can also be something of a surreal experience. Farrar says that when her dad is paying the company's bills and sees the one for her cell phone, he'll call her up and say, "Do you know how much you text, and how many minutes you're using?" According to Farrar, "We had the same discussion in high school and college. I'm 31. Sometimes, I'll think, 'Are we really still talking about this?' "
But knowing exactly who you're going into business with often trumps the flack you may sometimes get for texting too much on your cell phone. That's because joining forces with a parent or child is often easier than deciding to partner with an old college friend or business colleague. Because of your family relationship, you should have an acute sense of whether you and your father or child are going to make incredible business partners—or if you'd be better off staying away from each other in the business world.
"Take a long, hard look at your current relationship before you join forces," Tim Tassin says. "If there are signs of conflict before you go into business, working together is certainly not the cure."
Farrar agrees. "I don't think it's for everybody," she says. "If you don't already have a good relationship with your parents, I don't think starting a business with them would make it better."
Even if you do have a great relationship, it's still important to sit down and hash things out before going into business together. Outlining each other's expectations and responsibilities is certainly key to your future success.
"I think setting the ground rules upfront is very important," Chris says. "Early on, we both made a commitment that family comes first, and if we were ever in a situation where a business matter became really contentious and compromised our father-son relationship, then the business wasn’t worth continuing.
"If you keep your family as the number-one priority," he adds, "then the rest takes care of itself."
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Photos: Cassandra Hubbart, Chris Tassin, Snowfly, Ashley Farrar