Should the next generation have outside experience?

Business Leader Post, July 18, 2013

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Most family business owners prefer that the next generation have outside experience, but they do not make it a rule to do so. Of course it seems a reasonable thing to do, but the most important reason for having that outside experience does not show up until the next generation is a few years into the job.

What the next generation learns from outside experience is how to perform necessary tasks that are difficult in one way or another. Almost all of us do not do the most difficult things that are in front of us because we want to; we do them because we have to. Pushing through that discomfort, thereby gaining the psychological strength that comes with that push and with overcoming the discomfort is the key to success.  It is the “wolf at the door” or the fear and consequences of failing that drive us as well as the wish for success. Fear and pain are wonderful motivators. It is the self-esteem and confidence we get through that struggle that serve us well when the next challenge and then the next come our way.

When you are inside a family business, you cannot create the experience of having your last name be irrelevant. As a parent, your instincts are to protect. But that instinct is the critical ingredient that prevents you from handing down the ultimate consequence for poor performance: firing your child. If you do rise to the occasion and do “the right thing” from a business standpoint, the damage to family can be devastating.

Bite the bullet. Set the rule. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Do “the right thing” in the beginning. Require at least three to five years work experience someplace else.