Should our son be in the family business?

January 27th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

As the mother of a son and daughter, I greatly enjoyed your podcast of 8/22/15, in which you discussed father-son businesses. My son is currently employed in my husband’s law firm. My son’s background has not been stellar. He flunked out of the first year of a 3rd tier law school and had to take the bar exam 4 times to pass both sections. Consequently, he has been working at the family law firm for 2 years and only able to do anything court related since September 2015. Needless to say he spent much of his time surfing the internet because there wasn’t any work my husband could give him to do besides administrative work which my son felt beneath him to do. 

I realize the problem is much larger than just having your son in your business, but was hoping there were some books you could recommend regarding sons working for their fathers. I am thoroughly enjoying listening to your podcast, and your description of British Columbia has made me want to visit there.

∼ Kathy B.

Answer:

Dear Kathy,

We aren’t familiar with any books to recommend, but a Google search on family businesses should bring up a few names. At a minimum there would probably be useful chapters in those books, but they are probably better read before there is a problem rather than after.

You hint at understanding that there are three separate areas of concern that all impact one another. Your marriage: disagreeing about what is best for a child can cause tremendous strain. The business: it certainly can’t be good for morale or the bottom line to have an employee surfing the Internet instead of working. Your son: Any young person who finds paid work in a field in which he hopes to make his living, “beneath him,” is not thinking correctly. Is law what he wants to do or is this your husband’s dream?

Of course, each area affects each other area, making this a quagmire of potentially painful conflict. It sounds to us as if some outside counsel would be very helpful. If your husband is amenable to speaking to someone you both respect, preferably someone with experience in both the business and family arenas, our guess is that this might be more useful than reading books on the topic.

Your specific challenge is a great one. Recognizing that your husband is acting out of love for his son, you see that he may be harming rather than helping him. You need to respect his role as owner of the business at the same time as you may be worried that he is damaging your income. Our suggestion would be to focus on getting you and your husband on the same page as the first necessary step.

We would recommend that together you explore the possibility of your son no longer working in your husband’s law firm.  Even if your husband dreams of having his son in his business, it is always best in these situations for the son to come back to his father’s business after he has first been successful as an employee at some other firm.  Clearly your husband has been providing ‘welfare’ for your son.  Maybe this should stop.

Try as best as you can to isolate this problem and initiate interactions with both your husband and son that are opportunities for shared stress-free, positive time. We pray that you can keep this serious issue from overwhelming your whole life.

Hope you find a silver lining in the cloud,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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