Parents and Children and Business, Oh My!

After a long day of training when the room clears, I’m often approached by the son-of-a-boss who’s in trouble. His fortieth birthday looms on the horizon, he has worked for his dad for almost 20 years, dad still owns all the stock in the company and all the son has is a job and empty promises. Whether it’s the son or daughter in this situation, what council would you provide?

This scenario seems to repeat itself over and over again. While each situation is a little different, there’s common thread running through our industry that’s often ready to snap.

One of the greatest joys of parenting lies in bestowing benefits on our children. But all too often, the quest for building a legacy for your family through your business doesn’t materialize. Without a clear vision, the future becomes dim for your children and the day may come when they feel they’re a prisoner caught up in your dream.

If you are a parent with sons, daughters, or their spouses in your business, your obligation runs far deeper than just providing a job for these family members. It may take far more than a job to keep the best of them. While some may be satisfied with a job, many are not. When they are not satisfied, it’s up to both of you to find the best path for their future. Let’s take a look at some options and consider what has worked for others.

The Hard Conversation

Whatever the future may bring, it usually begins with a challenging and honest conversation. Parents may often feel threatened by these conversations, and in order to be successful, you’ll need to be genuinely interested in the future of your son or daughter. For decades you may have held the idea that you are building a future for your children, when in fact, this dream may have served you better than it has served them.

The first step is to find out their level of satisfaction with the current situation and how they feel about their position in the company and their prospects for their future.

When my brother and I sat down with our Dad years ago, this conversation took three meetings and included some flares of anger, a few raised voices, some hearty disagreements, followed by understanding, some tear, and then hugs. Those discussions got us where we needed to go.

Over many hours we began to understand each other. We found many of our ideas were in opposition to each other’s needs and wants. One of the meetings ended in a feeling of extreme uncertainty with no solutions and few options that we could agree on. About all we had was hope and the belief that we could find a path that could serve each of us. The spirit of the meeting was genuine and selfless. We were united and committed to finding the best solutions for each of us. That was the key.

Option One – They Stay

Family businesses do often work, and work well. Many evolve to the point where they provide handsomely for all members of the family, both financially, and in acceptable terms of personal progress and professional satisfaction. Normally this happens with a growing and progressive company where each family member has a specific area of responsibility and accountability.

Often there is a plan to retire the parents and transfer ownership to the next generation in a predetermined and orderly fashion. All too often sons in their fifties are still indentured servants with only the hope that Dad wrote them into their will…if there’s anything left to inherit when the old man passes, and what about Mom?

Option Two – A Separate Business

Many wise parents wisely see the need in their children for them to have their own professional path in life. Some people need to develop their own mission and business where they can succeed or fail on their own. Often it’s good for a parent to encourage and support their offspring in their own ventures. One way is to help them develop a related business within our industry.

Examples of related but separate business for the children to own and manage include the development of a separate testing and balancing company. (I had to list that one first) Perhaps a crane service, a refrigerant recovery service, a fleet maintenance service, or an HVAC distributorship would be possible business ventures. Others have opened separate sheet metal fabrication shops or energy rating businesses. The list of related businesses that could serve and profit from the family business are endless.

Option Three – Time to Move

In our family, it became clear early on that our children had other interests and that their way was clearly outside of our industry. We were fortunate enough to see early on that their best development would take place on their own. Likewise there came a time where my Father saw it wise to support me as I chose to leave the family business and pursue my training passion.

When in the course of human events a separation is eminent, it is the role of a parent to encourage, bless and release their children from the embrace of the family business and help them on their way.

Leaving a family business is hard and risky, difficult and painful, but who can stand in the way of the progress of their children? It is the natural tendency of a parent to keep their children close and protected. When their children’s hopes and dreams are involved and opportunity comes knocking on their doors, it’s a parents responsibility to let go.

This subject is deep and complex and calls for careful examination and long heart felt discussions. The point here is to engage in essential conversations and carefully construct plans that provide equally for the progress of each party individually.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as the President of National Comfort Institute, a company that provides technical and business training to the HVAC and related industries. You can contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. For additional information and downloads go to

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