Click to Print

The Parent Trap

Switching from parent to owner and back again takes some serious coordination.
March 1, 1998

Think of the qualities you need to be a good parent: patience, gentleness, tolerance for trial and error, and the ability to support, nurture, protect and teach. Now think of what it takes to be the head of a family business. None of those parental qualities would make it into most business owners' top 10 list.

So it's no surprise it's so difficult being parent and boss to offspring who work in the business. Parents concerned they can't get it right may be consoled by Ft. Worth, Texas, family business consultant Sam H. Lane's observation: "Practically no one who's been emotionally invested in the business for a long time does a good job at [balancing the two]."

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).

Juggling Roles

Marianne Hovivian, co-owner with her husband, Ted, of Brooklyn, New York-based Rialto Furniture Co., is one entrepreneur who found it difficult to shed the traits that served her well as a mother. "When my son would make a mistake in our business," she says, "I would say to myself, `He's learning, and that's good'--much to my husband's chagrin."

Charles L. Campbell admits he probably errs on the other side. "I'm harder on my two kids who work in the business than I am on other employees," says Campbell, who, with his wife, Henria, owns Studdard Moving and Storage in Leavenworth, Kansas. "My expectations for them are higher, and I want the other employees to see they're carrying their weight."

And Dublin, Ohio, realtor John Stinchfield indicates his is a somewhat split approach. "I've been accused of not praising my daughter Jackie enough, and maybe that's true," he concedes. "But, on the other hand, she's a single mom with a special-needs kid. I've let her schedule her hours to accommodate child-care arrangements--something I wouldn't have done for anyone but a relative."

Despite the difficulties of being both parent and boss, Mary Dana Korman, family business consultant with McGladrey & Pullen LLP in Minneapolis, and Lane offer these guidelines to parents when they don their business-owner hats.

When adult children make suggestions for change, Lane suggests setting some parameters so offspring don't sink the business, such as, "As long as you don't lose more than $25,000, you can test it out." Or "as long as the employees in your department are behind you, you can try it." Then step aside and give them the room to try . . . and sometimes fail.

Contact Sources

J.T. Stinchfield & Assoc. Realtors Inc., (614) 889-1154,

LBF & Associates, 5608 Malvey, #211, Fort Worth, TX 76107, (817) 735-1898

McGladrey & Pullen LLP, 800 Marquette Ave., #1300, Minneapolis, MN 55402, (612) 376-9344

Rialto Furniture Co. Inc., (718) 599-0800,

Studdard Moving and Storage, 201 Commercial St., Leavenworth, KS 66048, (800) 899-8498