18 months ago I joined a Family Business. For those who aren’t familiar with Dragonmobility, I joined one of the most ‘family’ family businesses there is. It’s warm, friendly, intimate… and most importantly, more than a little idiosyncratic. While I could go on for pages and pages about Dragon – it’s dynamics and characters – I think I can make far more use of myself sharing my general experiences of the joys (and some of the pitfalls!) of working in the unique environment that is family business.
Why You Should
I didn’t know at the time, but when I was interviewed it was by a mother and a daughter. For the first 15 minutes they hid it well: calling each-other by first names, referring to demarcation lines between their roles and blessed with an overall professionalism. Quickly, though, it became clear that there was something else at play. There was an eerie level of joined up thinking. There was an ease and clarity to everything, which I now know comes from a literal life time of sharing ideas together. It was only at this point (clever me!) that I started to notice the physical similarities in the people sat across the table from me. This is something I’ve continued to find at every level. You would be hard pressed to find strategic discord at Dragon.
Life Under A Wing
It should be made clear that in a true Family Business family/company cohesion never ever feels exclusive. Here, never do the staff sit around complaining of how we’ve been shut out of decisions taken over a dinner table. And that’s because pains are taken to welcome each and every one of us into the fold. Without meaning to sound saccharine, whether it is through dinner with the chairman and his wife or gossiping with the sister who’s unexpectedly dropped by, we’ve all been given our place in the family. This adds an extra level to all aspects of company life: professional development becomes more important, HR becomes more compassionate and respect stops being a line on the company’s mission statement and starts just being part of life. This is a huge part of what makes working in a Family Business so special.
It’s no secret, though, that families have arguments. However, I would challenge anyone to find a disagreement between a Chairman and a Managing Director that can be resolved as quickly (or as suddenly loudly!) as when the pair are father and daughter!
Things to look out for
I’ve got my own dad!
No matter how many times you tell people, or no matter how glaring the lack of physical resemblance, people are going to mistake you for one one of the family. Get ready for a lot of “Oh God, I thought you were so-and-sos son/daughter”, “Is your dad around?” and “So are you the youngest?”. Flattering as these comments are, you’ll soon get tired of telling people you have your own set of parents who work in entirely unrelated fields.
Your Daughter’s driving me mad
Once upon a time I sheepishly and tentatively broached a very Family Business issue with my boss. How, I asked myself, do I tell her I’m slightly annoyed at the Technical Director when he’s her dad? To my relief she laughed and said “Try complaining to your dad about your Sales and Marketing Director when she’s his wife”.
Tragedy equals tragedy cubed.
At any company it’s awful when a director’s brother is sick. While the human side of any story like this is obviously the most important, it goes without saying that a company will suffer three times as much when the brother is another director’s uncle and another’s brother in-law. This can be something that’s tricky for staff to navigate: do you carry on regardless or do you go risk grinding day-to-day running to halt.
All said and done, if you get the chance to be a part of one of these unique organizations, take it. Put in the most simple terms possible, it has more benefits than costs. Even the costs are endearing in their own way and you’ll quickly find yourself letting them slide. In other words, no one minds spending when you’re spending on family.