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AZRIELA JAFFE

7.28.99  
Should the Boss Hire His Teenage Daughter?
Advice for family businesses considering employing younger relatives — from one who experienced the challenges

I got my start in the working world at a Long Island telecommunications company, Databit, that my father, Philip Ackerman, founded and ran. In summers, I was the "repro" girl, filing and making copies and blueprints for the engineers in the plant. I did this job between ages 15 and 17, in the summers and for six months before I entered college, after graduating early from high school. What I remember most about my first job was how much I looked forward to flirting with all of the eligible young men who were working there. I considered myself "mature for my age" and thought nothing of dating men in their early 20s. Much to my father's dismay, I fell in love for the first time with a dashing technician named Jack and struck up a relationship that lasted through college and beyond with a young engineer named Ken MacDonald.

I've often wondered what ever happened to Jack and Ken. They had a lot of courage, dating the owner's daughter. In retrospect, my father had a lot of courage hiring me. It was impossible for anyone to see me as an employee. I was always Phil's daughter. The job was a real one, but it was so far below my capabilities that I was bored out of my mind. It was just a job -- from which I was unlikely to get fired -- with a decent weekly paycheck. And it was an easy way to enhance my social life. I'm sure my father was embarrassed at times by my unabashed flirting, but he never said anything.

A summer job in the family business can be a pleasant way station, or it can inspire an entrepreneurial career. It can also be a difficult experience for the teenager and all concerned. Take this man's concern. He writes: "I am looking for guidance on hiring family members for the summer. Three brothers have recently taken over all daily management of a 150-person, $15 million-a-year, plastic injection-molding facility. We have two locations -- two brothers are in one plant, a third in the other. The third brother wants to hire his 15-year-old daughter for the summer -- her first real job. We all feel that we need some guidelines to ensure success. Do you have any suggestions?"

I'm not surprised that it is you asking the question, instead of your brother. It's not unusual for the teenager's parent to want to plunge forward, with blinders on, because of a desire to make it work and a reticence to discuss the issues involved with their kid. You are right in recognizing that this situation is fraught with challenges.

Jane Hilburt-Davis( keyresourc@aol.com), a longtime family-business consultant and founder of Key Resources Inc. in Lexington, Mass., warns: "Make sure that hiring a family member for the summer is a business decision, not a family decision. Does she meet the criteria for the job? Are there clear procedures for hiring her that are no different than for other employees? It's also a good idea to have a mentor in place...who is not family. That mentor would keep an eye on things and ensure a smooth transition."

Pay the teenager in accordance with your pay scales for other employees in similar jobs. The worst precedent you could set is to use standards for the family member that are different from those for other employees. Be sure to create an objective way of measuring her job performance in advance.

There needs to be a real job for her to perform. Also, be careful to match the daughter with the right job, so that she has the best chance of succeeding. There is nothing more awkward for an owner to deal with than a family member who is put into a job that is over her head or not well-suited for her personality. I would also suggest speaking with the person who is to be her supervisor. Be sure to address any discomforts that he or she might have. That person is likely to wonder the following: "What do I do if she isn't performing? Is my job in jeopardy if this girl doesn't like working for me?" and "If the arrangement isn't working out well, can I speak my mind?" Lastly, be sure that your brother speaks candidly with his daughter about what she can expect working in a place where she will be seen as "the owner's daughter." She will want -- like many teenage girls -- to be accepted by everyone and treated like an individual, but some people will keep their distance, and may even resent her. Like it or not, she will represent the company to some and be treated in accordance with how employees feel about her dad or the company. She must be strong enough to handle that, which is not easy for many 15-year-olds. And she can't just be "daddy's little girl." She'll be an employee with responsibilities and a professional image to uphold. Discuss your concerns with your partners, and keep communication open. Hiring family members can work out well. But obviously you had an inkling of how unpleasant such situations can be when they don't -- or you wouldn't have written to me.

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 AZ@azriela.com. 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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