To keep it in the family or to not keep it in the family, that can be the million-dollar question. Conducting business with family is risky and challenges even the healthiest of relationships. Money, after all, can be a complicated and stressful beast.
Dropping issues at the end of a hard day of work isn’t easy, but you don't have to run a "waste management company" to take care of things either. I spoke with a few business owners and employees who are related to either members of the staff, to other colleagues, or to a boss. Now, whether they are still talking to each other is another story.
In a family business there can be job security.
"I appreciate my family business because it creates wealth for everyone and offers security,” says Mira Emmerling in regards to her family’s business in New Hampshire, Sugar and Ice Creamery. “We have similar values, understand our differences, and leverage them accordingly. Our passion and enthusiasm carries over into our products and empowers our team to deliver the ultimate ice cream experience."
But you don’t want to be taken advantage of. Getting support from family as a business team is much different from actually supporting family by generously handing over a paycheck to “help family.”
“It is fiscally smart to keep family in the business when you know where to draw the line between just supporting the family and growing a business,” says Maytal Sharifi, the vice president of Parameter, contemporary women’s clothing company in New York City. “There are times when family is employed simply because they are family, and if they are not doing the job, this can be financially draining.”
However, when it works there can be a unique level of trust. Labor can come cheaper and staff more dependable. There's an element of caring about something even more when it’s your own blood, sweat and tears. “There is a tremendous amount of trust that you have when working with family,” says Sharifi. “When you know your entire family’s well-being is on the line, it gives you a great sense of motivation. You do not only want to do well for yourself.” (This is presuming you can always trust and count on family).
For Christopher Deschamps, whose family ran a mechanic shop called Han’s Service Center for 30 years in New Rochelle, NY, things worked for the most part. That is, until they started hiring staff outside of the family. The business ultimately dissolved after the outside hires stole from the family business.
Still, criticism has no boundaries when there’s a family business.
The tough love you receive from your family at home is one aggravation, but to get it at work can be, well, really tough to deal with. “Getting yelled at by my father is not the same as being yelled at by a regular boss,” says Sharifi. Just like in any job you have to leave work problems at work. Easier said then done. “There is pride in working together, [and there was] that old school element of wanting to please your father,” says Christopher’s wife, Rachel, who along with Christopher started another family business: Deschamp’s Farm in Brainard, NY. Certainly in a family business at the farm can be longer days. In addition, there are also those arguments that unfortunately will carry over into dinnertime.
Family businesses are good breeding grounds for workaholics. Kevin Sam often helps his father, who owns and operates Sabrosura, a Chinese and Dominican soul food restaurant in Queens. After a long day at work, the Sam men often don’t get to sit down for dinner together until well after midnight. Kevin asked his father if he felt there were any advantages to working as a family together. “He flat out said, what loosely translates from Chinese as, ‘None.’ " (According to everyone interviewed, there were no real tax benefits to owning a family business either.)
Depending on the family business, sick days and vacation days are either much easier or much harder to come by. When everyone trusts each other, it’s easier to let hard work be rewarded and some things slide. “In the event of a [personal] disaster, your family will understand,” says Deschamps. “Health insurance, cars, and gas are usually covered under business expenses.” Some enjoy a good holiday bonus. But on the flipside, as Sharifi noted, arguing does feel like a personal attack. “There are no good excuses for lateness or [random] time off, says Deschamps. Well, “unless hospitalized, and that's debatable!” At the end of the day when family is depending on you, “no flu, broken bones or headaches can disable you,” says Deschamps. “There are no lazy days. You must always perform.” And regarding healthcare and insurance plans: getting a group rate is ideal, but that’s if there are enough people in your company to get that group discount from providers. “Since my family restaurant is so small, the discounts that have been given to us are laughable,” says Sam. “Our healthcare plans might be just as expensive as buying private or family health plans.”
Caution: mixing money and love can be risky. Money and family can be a lethal combination. Family mixed with business can create more setbacks than benefits say both generations of Sams. The older Sam wants the younger to enjoy the comforts of the American dream with a more “stable” corporate job. “Business involves money and money should never be involved with family. Even though my father has an entrepreneurial spirit, the family restaurant business is something he wants me to stay away from,” says the younger Sam. Bottom line: A dispute over money can split families apart. The saying "it’s just business" never applies with family, says Sam who has experienced first hand what it’s like to experience family baggage at the dinner table during the holidays. “I have an uncle who left the family business over 10 years ago because of a money dispute,” says Sam. “We haven't seen his family since. We use to always get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas. As a family, we've chosen to forget each other rather than forgive.”
But working as a team can be rewarding. There have been times when the Deschamps were able to use their business to help others. With farming, they can literally provide the food they put on their table and other people’s tables. “Our neighbor, a single father, was laid off,” says Deschamps. “We were able to provide his family with produce, eggs, and meat until he went back to work.”