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Children On Board

For one entrepreneur, business is all in the family.

Angst. That's the only way to describe the gut-wrenching pull many parents feel when leaving their infant for the first time to return to work. In most businesses, the guilt and anxiety are just something mom or dad has to live with, but at Colt Safety Inc. in St. Louis, owner Christine Bierman offers parents a temporary reprieve by allowing children in the office.

"It just sort of evolved," says 42-year-old Bierman. "First, my CFO was pregnant [in 1986], and she was in a position no one else could fill and couldn't take off six weeks without pay."

Bierman's response was "Come back as soon as you can--and bring the baby."

Since then, children have been welcomed with open arms at Bierman's two St. Louis safety training and consulting companies, Colt Safety Inc. and Safety Technologies Inc.

The solution is only temporary, however. "Once babies start needing [more] attention instead of sleeping most of the day, another solution is necessary," says Bierman.

Her empathy for parents comes from personal experience. "When I first started Colt, my 4-year-old daughter came to the office, and every once in a while, I'd put her to work stamping catalogs or emptying the trash," says Bierman.

Child-care concerns even prompted Bierman to explore opening an on-site day-care facility, but she decided against it after she looked into insurance liability. Nonetheless, she still lets parents bring their children in when baby-sitter problems, doctor's appointments and illnesses arise.

"Allowing children in the office has to fit into your corporate culture," advises Bierman. "I do business from the heart, so it fits our culture. Maybe it's because we're woman-owned and so family-oriented."

And while she acknowledges that children can be a distraction, Bierman says as long as the work gets done, kids will continue to be welcome in the office.

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This article was originally published in the December 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Children On Board.

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