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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 more supportive.

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!

Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.



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