Flying Away Finally from the Family Business
If you leave the nest in midlife, safeguard those key relationships
All over the world, men and women in the midlife years test their emotional
fortitude by quitting jobs to start their own businesses. Often people tell them
they're crazy. Who knows how many of the naysayers secretly wish they had the
courage to do the same thing? What motivates those who set out on their own? For
some it's the thrill of confronting failure head-on, something they realize
they'll never feel if they continue to work for a corporation or a family business
they grew up in.
Recently, I received this E-mail from a man who has been bitten with the
startup bug in mid-career. He writes:
"I am 42 years old and have two children, ages 8 and 6.
I work as the general manager for my dad's firm. We are the largest general
importers on the island of Dominica. Although I have my own way 90% of
the time when it comes to buying new products or just repeating an order,
I have not been as keen as I was when I first started 10 years ago. I
have this feeling that I have gained a tremendous amount of experience
and that I am ready to venture on my own.
"The firm has been operational for over 60 years. My relationship
with my father is good. He wants for me any decision that makes me feel
happy. I believe that the company is doing great and will always do well.
I personally want to start my own business and be successful. What would
be your advice?"
Like a young adult who has lived too long with his parents, you are
ready to set up your own house. Some people will tell you that you are
crazy. But there are only three people whose views matter in this situation:
you, your wife, and your father. You say your father supports your desire
to leave. That will make the entire process much easier. You can work
with him as a partner instead of an adversary. How does your wife
feel about such a risk? Can she handle the financial volatility after all
these years of security? Do you have a cushion of savings to allow you
some time to succeed?
You don't sound confused about what you want. It sounds, though, as
if you want permission from an outsider to do it. I say, go for it. Do
it strategically, though. Try to save as much money before you quit your
job. Bring your wife into the decision as much as possible so she'll be
And don't leave your dad in the lurch just because you've finally found
your courage. Create a strategic plan for your departure with him,
using family-business consultants if necessary, to make the transition
as smooth as possible. Expect your dad to be somewhat disappointed, sad,
or even angry, as much as he loves you and supports you. Your leaving will
be a loss for him.
Research your move carefully. Ideally, choose a business that capitalizes
on the knowledge you have gained in your family business -- perhaps one that
is synergistic with your father's and can help his business grow even
bigger. Certainly, don't choose a business that competes with his.
Leave your father's company on good terms, making sure that his needs
are met before you take care of your own. You may require his financial and
emotional support more than you think once you start your own company.
Imagine the joy in your father's face, and your own happiness, when he attends
the grand opening of your new business. He is, after all, not only your
father but also your business mentor, and he should be treated as such.
Follow your entrepreneurial dreams and climb your mountain. Write again,
and tell me where you end up!