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Are Your Kids Wrecking Your Business?

You've welcomed your kids into the family business--and you're ready to pull your hair out. Now what?

Teresa Craig knew something had to change in her business. Although she'd brought in her sons, Sebastian and Michael Grasso, 33 and 34, respectively, to help develop the company, their working relationship was so bad, it was affecting the business.

Craig had been in the field of vocational rehabilitation for more than a decade before starting Windham Injury Management Group in Windham, New Hampshire, in 1989. Sebastian joined the company immediately after graduating from college in 1990, and she trained him in sales and vocational rehab. Her older son, Michael, came on board five years later after he'd received a master's degree in ergonomics--an educational achievement Craig thought would be a useful addition to her son's engineering degree.

But the mother and sons' business relationship was a lot like their personal relationship--explosive. "We argued about everything," Craig says. "My expectations of them were very high. They felt they were unrealistically high."

After more than a year of working with her sons, Craig was so exasperated, she tried to fire them. But Sebastian and Michael refused to listen to her. "They wouldn't go away," she says. "The next day, they were back in the office."

Although the business kept growing, morale at Windham was suffering. "Things came to a head when we started losing a lot of good employees," Craig says. "When we asked them why they were leaving, they said they couldn't stand listening to and being part of the conflict we were generating. That's when we knew we had to do something. We had to get someone to help us stop the bleeding."

Patricia Schiff Estess writes family business histories and is the author oftwo 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 September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bad Blood.

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