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Aug 11 2014

The Highs & Lows of Working for Your Family Business

By at 4:46 pm

Fried-Chicken

You might say that family business is my family’s business. My great grandfather owned a five-and-dime store, one of my grandfathers owned a bowling alley, and my other grandfather owned a few grocery stores and fast food stalls. So it’s not very surprising that my father is also an entrepreneur. Though he got a PhD in economics, he soon after moved his family back east and returned to the family business, which at the time was fried chicken–the very best fried chicken.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are from my time behind the counter, greeting customers and later selling fried chicken, biscuits, and western fries. I vividly remember “pulling plugs” (separating the livers from the gizzards before frying), which perhaps had something to do with me becoming a vegetarian in my early teens (and for a long time after). I also learned a lot of life lessons being part of this family business. I interacted with people from a different world than where I lived and went to school (which was probably at least 90 percent Jewish), I learned what hard work really is and how hard some people’s lives really are, and I saw how a family can go through both good and bad times and still stick together.

My family’s business had some highs, but it also had some very low lows. We opened several stores, and we had to close some stores. After closing the stores, my parents took a hiatus from entrepreneurship and worked for others.

But even in the midst of the hardest of circumstances, I always knew that we would be OK. My parents always kept us safe, and no matter what happened, I knew I could always count on them.

After taking a few years off from self-employment (i.e., having a regular job), the entrepreneurial spirit reared again and my father started a new, much less smelly and much more academic business. When the new business started to take off, my mother came and joined him and together, with him as the scientist/researcher and her as the manager/administrator, they grew the business to what it is today. Aside from their children and grandchildren, their 300-employee company really is their pride and joy.

I am truly amazed at what my parents have built. Not only is the business highly regarded and financially sound, but people (including myself) actually like working there. Still, it sometimes makes me nervous. There can be a lot of volatility in our industry and over the years I have found that I am not much of a gambler and fairly risk averse. What if business isn’t always good? Should we all be financially dependent on this one business? Is it smart for us all to work together? Could we ever have a fight that negatively affects our relationship, long-term? I have certainly heard some stories.

I have worked in this current business with my parents for 10 years now and, though we’ve had a few heated moments, it’s been mostly great. When we feel like it, we can have lunch together. And when we are getting a little sick of each other, we just move our offices farther away from each other (just kidding–sort of).

About four years ago, my brother did some major soul searching, moved his family back to town, and joined us too. Within a few years, he was promoted to president of the company. Some people may wonder if I am jealous–but I am not. Maybe because we are different genders, maybe because he’s four years younger than me, or maybe it’s something else. I don’t feel competitive with him. I feel incredibly grateful that he joined us, I am glad to have him and his family around, and I am proud of how smart, capable, and wise he has become. As his older sister, I must have taught him well.

Could I do it? Could I ever be in charge? I don’t think I have the right temperament or a strong enough stomach. And it’s also not something I’ve ever really aspired to. Currently, I am writing this on my phone with my sweet baby asleep on my chest. So, at least for now, I am happy just the way I am (minus a few¬†pounds). I feel blessed to spend my days (part-time!) with such kind, caring, and intelligent people who run their business(es) like mensches. And I’m starting to realize that a little gambling isn’t so bad.

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