It’s inspiring to hear of parents and their children getting along like friends while still respecting each other’s positions in the family. Such a quality relationship can be channeled into entrepreneurship: With generational differences and insights, communicating and working as a team can be a basis for a successful business partnership.
We asked the leadership teams of 10 family-run businesses about the advantages and challenges they’ve had working with their parent or child, and their advice for other parent-child business owners.
This wheat- and gluten-free food manufacturer was founded by Steven Rice in 1993. His son, Aaron, now works with him as Authentic Foods’ vice president of sales and marketing.
Aaron says the biggest advantage of running a business with his father is the ease of communication that comes with knowing each other so well.
“There is something different about the communication of a father and son than other relationships,” he said.
However, Aaron also notes that it’s been a challenge for his father to give up some control. Steven ran the business by himself for years, he said, and it’s an adjustment to work with a partner.
Aaron’s advice: “Open communication is key. Start by delineating clear responsibilities about who is in charge of what and fall back on those when there is conflict and a decision must be made.” [Want your family business to thrive? Be sure to plan ahead.]
Mother and daughter Kathy Moça and Emilie Whitaker were inspired by the figure-flattering jean designs of Brazil and created Beija-Flor Jeans together. Emilie loves having a partner she already knew how to work with, and Kathy appreciates the shared passion she and her daughter have for their company.
As in all family businesses, boundaries are hard to set and even harder to preserve, said Emilie. She notes that she and Kathy both have a hard time “leaving the office” and transitioning back and forth between partners and mother-daughter.
Emilie’s advice: “Be patient and kind to each other. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s easy to treat those we love the most with the least care.”
Kathy’s advice: “Share the work. From the very beginning we had a division of roles and responsibilities, with the understanding that sometimes we have to cover for each other.”
Creighton’s Chocolaterie, a design-led chocolate brand offering artisanal treats, was created by mother-daughter duo Andrea Huntington and Lucy Elliott. Lucy said the greatest advantage is being able to spend more time with her mother and having a mutual interest they can both get equally excited about.
“There is also the trust that, when times are tough, your business partner will always be supportive as a parent too,” she said.
Trying to be diplomatic when there is something you don’t agree on can be a real challenge in a family business, said Lucy. This is especially hard if one of you has made a mistake. Lucy said that it’s important to remember that it is work and not personal – “but that isn’t always easy to put into practice,” she added.
Lucy’s advice: “Try to have defined roles that play to your skills so that there is no stepping on each other’s toes. And set aside regular times outside work when you do not talk about work!”
John Paul Mitchell Systems
John Paul DeJoria, co-founder and chairman of the company responsible for the renowned Paul Mitchell hair care products, currently works with his daughter, Michaeline, who is vice chairwoman.
As a duo, John Paul and Michaeline benefit from each other: John Paul takes pride in his daughter’s proficiency while Michaeline gains wisdom and knowledge from her experienced father.
The business does pose its challenges, especially with a generational gap to consider. “Something like social media, for example, took me ages to convince him was a relevant thing,” Michaeline said. “We think a lot alike, but have very different sets of eyes in some ways.”
John Paul agreed, noting that it was tough for him to let go of certain areas of business so Michaeline could take over. “She is part of the millennial generation, so it’s also a matter of keeping up with her and learning from her,” he said.
Michaeline’s advice: “Don’t have an ego. It’s not about who is the boss, who is entitled to what, and certainly not about who knows better. We both have one goal: to grow the business for our staff and our customers’ sake. When you have selfless intentions that are united, just do what needs to be done.”
John Paul’s advice: “If you are lucky enough to have a child that is proficient, you learn that your past knowledge may not always be right, so be open to your children informing you of what they think and why.”
Minuteman Press of Medford
Dave Greenhalgh is the current owner of a Minuteman Press printing franchise based in Medford, Oregon. His stepson, Sean Byrne, is his co-owner and future successor.
Dave hired Sean because he believed he was the best person for the job, with his enthusiasm, go-getting mentality and other leadership qualities.
At first, Dave was concerned with the fact that he was hiring family; but Sean proved he was the best fit for the position and has been a great asset to the company. “… I am very happy to say that Sean is the best hire I have made in the 20 years I have been in business.”
Dave’s advice: “Consider the possible negative impact of hiring a family member. The possible resentment of the staff and the harm it could do to family dynamics is a very serious consideration.”
NuFACE, a company that makes an at-home anti-aging skin care device, was founded in 2005 by Carol Cole and her daughters, Tera and Kimberly. Today, Tera serves as the CEO.
Tera said that she, her mother and her sister have different strengths and talents, and each complements the others and contributes to the company’s success. “My mom, Carol, is what I call the mad scientist; my sister, Kim, is the worker bee and gets all the office stuff done; and I am the assertive salesperson,” she said.
Starting the company from scratch was a challenge, but the trio learns as they go. “Fortunately, we have good heads on our shoulders, a knack for business and know our customers very well.”
Tera’s advice: “You can’t change someone. Embrace each other’s differences to recognize the value in a different point of view. My weaknesses are my mom’s strengths and vice versa, and we love to learn from each other.”
Jeff Braverman is the third-generation owner of Nuts.com, which was founded by his grandfather in 1929 as the Newark Nut Co. He currently serves as CEO, after inheriting the company from his father, Kenny.
Jeff said that knowing each other as family has allowed them to have faith in one another. “I could wholeheartedly trust my dad, and he in turn ultimately put blind faith in my stewardship,” he said.
However, mixing family and business has its complications, like typical family tension, which can be emotionally draining, Jeff said. But this doesn’t stop the Bravermans from moving forward.
Jeff’s advice: “I think parents should expose their children to as much as possible, as early as possible. I know many peers that wanted to work with their parents, but were frustrated that their parents kept things very guarded and were reluctant to share. It’s important to note that humility and curiosity are very important characteristics, especially in a family business.”
In 2010, Chrissy Weems helped her then-14-year-old daughter, Bella, co-found Origami Owl, a custom jewelry company that now operates on a direct sales “home party” model. The company started as a mall kiosk before expanding into a social selling platform.
Chrissy relished the opportunity to work with her daughter while learning how to grow a new business. By doing so, she saw firsthand the importance of people over profit, she said.
“It has been fulfilling watching her grow as a young woman in business as well as in her compassion for others,” Chrissy said. “We both have been empowered to affect change in this world by sharing the Origami Owl business opportunity with others.”
Though the hands-on experience was valuable for Bella, she was still only a teenager. Chrissy made sure to remind Bella that education comes first, as well as being a kid.
“I never wanted Bella to miss out on opportunities with her friends; however, she is committed to Origami Owl and was willing to sacrifice a lot to support growing it,” she said.
Chrissy’s advice: “Find something you are both passionate about and set goals. Be willing to commit the time necessary to build the business and surround yourself with others that lift you up. When Bella and I started out, we sacrificed a lot, which impacted our entire family, but we were willing to do what needed to be done to be successful and provide a life-changing opportunity for others.”
Natural “peanut butter with a twist” company PB Crave was founded by Curt Riess. His son, Austin, serves as the company’s general manager.
The two thrived off each other’s knowledge and experience, working on a strategy and business model. However, their age gap sparked some challenges, as each had his own approach to certain areas.
“I come from a different generation and background, and have new ideas and ways of doing things,” said Austin. “So, you need to be able to compromise on different things.”
Austin’s advice: “Work somewhere else for a year or more [if you’re the son or daughter]. That was a requirement for me to come into the business. I had to go out and prove myself and experience a different work environment to see the different benefits and downfalls. You also will be able to see how vastly different business models vary by company. This is good to understand, and it will allow you to be able to react better in different business environments and bring some experience to the table.”
Skyline Windows, a New York-based custom window company, is currently run by CEO Steven Kraus and his son, senior vice president Matthew.
Matthew said that the greatest advantage of working with his father is learning from someone he admires and respects.
“I’ve been watching my father run Skyline Windows for as long as I can remember, and I greatly value his insight,” he said. “Furthermore, my father knows me better than anyone, and he is able to use that knowledge and deep connection in order to properly challenge and encourage me.”
As father and son, the two share strong personalities – but they don’t always share opinions, which often causes issues.
Furthermore, it can be uncomfortable challenging someone you’ve looked up to your entire life, Matthew said. “You need to be able to remove the personal relationship from the picture and solely focus on the fact that you are … having a professional discussion with a colleague, not your father.”
Matthew’s advice: “Ultimately, you have to understand that your child is his own person with his own ambitions, dreams and goals. You cannot force your child to follow in your footsteps, or else you will have nothing but resentment, [and] the company’s future will not be as successful as you hope it will.”
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.