HR Policies for Family Employees

The Moment Of Truth

At the time the decision to leave is made, it's probably not possible to take the angst out of the situation, says Lane. But it is possible to minimize it so that it doesn't shatter family relations.

John Ryan was working with his brothers and cousins as Ryan Inc. Central's treasurer, project manager and manager of corporate real estate when, in 1994, he decided to leave the 113-year-old Janesville, Wisconsin-based earth-moving contracting firm started by his great grandfather. He wanted to head the company's subsidiary, Land and Water Resources Inc., an organization in Rosemont, Illinois, that helps developers compensate for the wetlands they destroy or damage by constructing off-site wetland tracts. It seemed like an easy move. But it wasn't.

"I had to buy my family members out of Land and Water Resources, and they had to buy me out of Ryan Inc. I knew the family thought I was deserting the business, and there was a lot of resentment. I spent a lot of time in honest and open communication showing how there would be mutual gain for us all [Land and Water Resources uses Ryan Inc. as a subcontractor on many jobs] and why I needed to go out on my own. I wanted to convince them that I wasn't doing this to hurt anybody. My father and uncles, who our generation had bought out in '84, were very supportive--my brothers and cousins less so."

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This article was originally published in the August 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Flying The Coop.

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