Theory of Un-Relativity

Generation Next

When flukes suddenly spawn a family business.

Most people don't start a business because they envision a family dynasty down the road. In truth, most businesses don't survive into the next generation.

Nevertheless, some entrepreneurs do spawn a family business. It can happen by tragic accident: The entrepreneur dies suddenly, and children swarm in to save their inheritance. Or by happenstance, when relatives who had previously shunned the firm suddenly decide they want into the family fold.

How can an entrepreneur prepare for the possibility that a fluke might turn his or her enterprise into a family business?

  • Expose your children to what you do for a living. "Even if you prefer that your child go in another direction," says Ira Bryck, director of the Family Business Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, "it's valuable to understand how the business is run." Give kids summer jobs; take them with you to work.
  • Balance your complaints about the business by telling children about the positive challenges and benefits of ownership.
  • Talk with the family about the business. "You never know when something may intrigue them," says Bryck. You can do this informally or under the umbrella of a family meeting. Even if they never enter the business, knowing about it will be important if anything happens to you and they need to sell it.

Don't assume you know how your children or other relatives feel about joining the business just because they express no interest in it at one stage of their lives. Their final decision may be yet to come.

Contact Sources

Cougar Mountain Software, (800) 388-3038,

Trinity Valley Erectors,

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Theory of Un-Relativity.

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