The Outsiders

It's tough to be 'in' with your co-workers when you're the future boss.

Being the son, daughter or other relative of a family business's leader can be a real dilemma when you're 20-something and eager to prove your worth to the family--but also want to be friends with your co-workers. You're still young enough that the business's future doesn't likely rest on your shoulders, and if you've joined the company straight out of high school or college, you're probably very interested in building friendships with the people you spend your days with.

But like it or not, unless you change your identity and your last name, you'll never be one of the gang. You can buddy up to your work pals during the day and go out with them for a drink at night, rationalizing it as team-building, says Paul Karofsky, executive director of Northeastern University's Center for Family Business in Boston, but that's not what's really happening.

People are always aware of who you are--and as someone who may own the business someday, you're different. "You probably have more money--and definitely more clout--than your peers," says Dennis Jaffe, family business consultant and management professor at Saybrook Graduate School.

When you speak, people listen--even though you don't always speak for the family or the business. "And you're immediately thought of as rotten or spoiled, even if you aren't," says Mike Spiewak, 47, CEO of Spiewak & Sons, a New York City manufacturer of uniforms and outerwear. He was put in an awkward position--as the owner's son--when he came into his father's business in 1973. Now he's trying to advise his 24-year-old nephew, Aaron, about how to walk the precarious line between being a caretaker to the company and being a friendly, respected co-worker.

Patricia Schiff Estess writes family business histories and is the author of two books, Managing Alternative Work Arrangements (Crisp Publishing) and Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage (Betterway Press).

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This article was originally published in the December 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Outsiders.

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