Good Company

Benefits of Belonging

"People think that by joining any group, they're admitting to a certain amount of dysfunction," says Paul. "So they're leery about the idea." But once there, she says, they realize that the other participants are successful people who want to learn more about themselves and family business practices in a trusting environment.

Still not sure if it's right for you? Consider the advantages of joining a next-generation peer group:

  • Good ideas to implement now. When Henry and his three brothers were young adults, they had no specific rules about how and when they could join their father's business; but with 12 third-generation kids at their heels, "I realized how important a family employment policy was," Henry explains. So he recently established one at Robert Henry-based on information garnered from discussions with next generation group colleagues whose family businesses had instituted such a policy.
  • Good ideas for the future. "It's not that I'm in a position [right now] to implement many of the ideas I've gotten from these meetings," says Neal Kursban, the heir apparent to his mother's Silver Springs, Maryland, home health-care company, Family & Nursing Care. "The timing isn't [always] right. But I take notes, and one day I'll seriously consider making changes."

For John Yarger, next in line for ownership of North American Signs, a third-generation South Bend, Indiana, sign-making business run by his father and uncle, just hearing what other people are doing in terms of negotiating with the senior generation has been enlightening. "And I've gleaned a lot of insight into issues we hadn't even thought about, like developing an active board of advisors," he says.

  • Sources of camaraderie. "It's enlightening and comforting to know other people [who are] experiencing similar concerns," says Claudine Hayman, a third-generation member of Hayman Systems, a point-of-purchase specialist business in Laurel, Maryland. "I've become especially friendly with two other women in the group, and we meet separately as well." Hayman says that until now, she hadn't met many other daughters of bosses.
  • A well of resources. For Yarger, the group has provided him with people "to bounce business ideas off of." Yet meetings aren't the only place and time he can get help. "I can pick up the phone and call any member of the group about any issue," says Kursban. "And these are sharp people who can identify with you."
  • A force for clarity when dealing with the future. Yarger says his group membership has helped him become more patient with his slow ascension in the family business. "I see people who've been working in the same position in their family's business 10 years longer than I have," Yarger says. "That knowledge has given me a new perspective. This isn't a fast process. Without diminishing the goals I have for myself or for the company, I realize I don't have to be at a specific place at a specific time."

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Good Company.

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