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Family Ties

When parents and children go into business together

Most 30-year-olds who have spent the better part of their adult lives trying to break free of their parents would not choose a parent as a business partner. And most 60-year-olds would pale at the thought of risking time, energy, capital and perhaps a relationship to go into business with an adult child.

But these unorthodox family business start-ups seem to be springing up more frequently, says Paul Karofsky, director of Northeastern University's Center for Family Business in Boston. What tempts different generations to become business partners?

 

  • Upheaval in the work force--career changes, downsizing, work dissatisfaction and early retirement--means the careers of young adults and their parents are often at a crossroads at the same time.


*Many people in their 50s and 60s are looking for new challenges or ways to focus on one area of interest and shed other, less appealing responsibilities.

 

  • People in their 20s and 30s may be disenchanted by corporate America and feel working for others is no more secure than owning a business.

 

  • People in their 50s and 60s may bring capital and experience to a partnership; people in their 20s and 30s may bring enthusiasm, energy and an understanding of current markets.

All these reasons run through the stories of parent-child start-ups. Sidney Greenleaf, for example, had owned a mechanical engineering business but was looking for a change. So starting a new firm in Boston, Architectural Engineers Inc., with his daughter Robin and her husband, Joel Goodmonson--both structural engineers--seemed to be a perfect opportunity.

When Beatriz T. Halbert wanted to start her facilities maintenance firm, The Sequoia Group Inc., in Atlanta, she asked her mother, Beatriz E. Suarez, to be her partner because "she was the perfect person and this was the perfect time." Suarez's husband, Ernesto, was retiring, and the couple wanted to get away from Michigan's cold winters. Suarez had been thinking of going back to college for another degree, "but this was a much more inter-esting opportunity," she says.

Gregg Levin told his parents and siblings he had an invention he wanted to bring to the marketplace--a gizmo for curving, storing, displaying, transporting and washing baseball caps. "I humored him at first," recalls his attorney father, Barry, who had always dreamed of going into business with one of his children--something other than the law, which he no longer found satisfying. "But he dragged me to stores, and I began to see the gizmo's value." Now Gregg and Barry are partners in Perfect Curve Inc.

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Family Ties.

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