Making the Most of the Moment When a Nextgen Joins the Family Business

Posted with permission of Massachusetts Family Business. Copyright The Warren Group 2016. For more information visit

by Amy J. Katz

The offer of a first job is a major milestone for many young people. The moment they accept it is exciting, for it confirms their belief in their potential, an affirmation of their skills and talents, the beginning of financial independence and the opportunity to define themselves apart from their parents.

For young adults who decide to work in their family’s business, often called “nextgens,” the experience of accepting that first real job is quite different. For some, it is a natural progression from after-school and summer jobs at the business, and a fulfillment of expectations that were clear from early childhood. They make their decision with the trust that over time they will have the opportunity to develop their skills and interests and en-joy the privileges that will likely come their way.

For others, the moment comes when they decide to join the business after time spent working in other settings. They re-turn to the business eager to share their insights and to influence and improve the business. Occasionally, the choice follows a time of questioning and doubt about whether they can work for their parents, achieve what they have achieved, and ultimately, whether they have the commitment and capacity to sustain the family legacy.

Whether the choice is expected or surprising, the moment of choice has life-long implications. Dr. Megan Jay, a clinical psychologist, calls the 20s “the most defining decade of adulthood.” In family businesses, a son or daughter’s choice to commit to the family business is a defining moment for their parents as well. It can be they first time they understand that their children truly appreciate the family’s history and that their hopes for the succession of the business might be realized.

As with many life decisions, the impact of choosing to work in one’s family business – that crucial moment – may not be felt immediately. It takes time to navigate the complexities of being in the spotlight and – rightly or wrongly – being viewed as a powerful person. So when a senior employee praises a nextgen’s contributions, it’s a sign that the choice was a good one. A brother who tells his sister, “You’re good at that; I’m good at this,” conveys the respect that is vital to an effective sibling partnerships. A daughter who has the freedom to lead a new division realizes that she can be an entrepreneur within the business. These are the experiences that build confidence in one’s choices.

Of course, there are frustrations, as with any new job. The first time a parent says firmly, “Don’t call me Dad here,” can be unsettling. A nextgen who expects a quick promotion can be stunned to receive critical feedback from a non-family supervisor. When the leadership team of a family business resists a nextgen’s push for new software, the experience can be humbling. And perhaps most difficult, a nextgen who has idealized a parent may feel disenchanted and even angry as the realization that the parent is flawed sets in.

But that moment of decision, and the learning that comes after it, while challenging at times can eventually provide both parents and their adult children a chance to recreate their relationships. In that moment of decision to join the business, nextgens can provide a way for families to renew their connection to each other and to the work and values that have shaped their lives.

What can make “the moment” a decision to celebrate for years to come? Nextgens deserve the opportunity to consider the pros and cons, to under-stand the expectations of their new role, and to ask about the potential for career growth, development, salary and benefits. Parents and non-family executives can take the nextgen’s interest in working at the business seriously, without any assumptions that he or she will easily fit in. They can create thoughtful inter-view questions that ask the nextgen to describe their strengths and areas where development is needed. They can also create scenarios about how the position might evolve, explain employee policies and practices, and articulate clearly what success will look like. In other words, parents and other executives would do well to give nextgens the satisfaction that they have been officially hired for a specific position.

Amy Katz

Family businesses often pride them-selves on having an informal, “family” culture. But bringing in the next generation can be surprisingly disruptive for nextgens, their parents and non-family employees. By giving the nextgen the time and space to make a true decision, and by preparing the organization for the nextgen’s role, the moment a next-gen joins the family business can be a significant and joyful event that sets the stage for the future.


Posted with permission of Massachusetts Family Business. Copyright The Warren Group 2016. For more information visit Click here to download a PDF of the article.

Dreams and Directions

mary_miller_105_v3A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Miller, who is the CEO of JANCOA, a company that provides janitorial services throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.  Mary is a warm, funny, and determined leader, and Jancoa has been recognized for its caring approach to employees and for the excellent janitorial services 550 employees provide.

“I love getting people excited about their future,” said Mary.  She’s certainly put that love into action.  Mary’s husband Tony founded the company 45 years ago, and Mary joined him 23 years ago. They put in a place a program that gives employees the opportunity to realize their dreams–at work and in life. In fact, the program is described in a book by Matthew Kelly, called The Dream Manager.

Many of JANCOA’s employees are immigrants and refugees, people who, in Mary’s words, “have gotten stuck and stopped dreaming.”  JANCOA provides them with the opportunity to dream about their future and the support to remove the barriers which have gotten in their way.  It’s a very inspiring business.

changingdirection_coverWhen I asked Mary about what it’s like to work in a family business, she began by sharing her own personal story.  I was surprised to learn that before meeting Tony, she was a single mother, bankrupt, and facing eviction.  Knowing Mary as the upbeat business and community leader she has become, I listened intently.  “I had to change the way I looked my possibilities”, she said.  “If you want to see the sunrise but you’ve got your chair and your camera set up facing west, you’ll never see it.  Sometimes you have to look in the opposite direction to see what’s possible.”  In fact, Mary has just written a new book, called Changing Direction: 10 Choices That Impact Your Dreams. I hope you’ll check it out!

Several family members now work at JANCOA, but of course I was particularly interested in Mary’s relationship with her daughters at work.  One daughter worked in the business but then decided to become a nurse, a choice Mary fully understands and supports.  Her oldest daughter Christy recently returned to JANCOA after several years away to focus on business development, and Mary calls her the “Queen of Wow.” Mary acknowledges that the two of them have had to learn to communicate differently now that they’re working together.  “She’s learning to relate to me as a CEO and a grandmother.”  And Mary is learning to accept the changes Christy recommends…”as long as she prepares me for them.”

Amy Katz

As our interview came to an end, I commented on the way Mary had changed her own direction.  She laughed and said, “I’m a work in progress.”

Aren’t we all!


How to Work Happily with your Mom and Grow her Business | Elizabeth Blount McCormick | Episode 049


Theme: A Daughter Successfully Manages Business Change

Summary: Elizabeth Blount McCormick describes how she took over her mother’s business and introduced the changes and culture that have helped the business continue to thrive.

Featured Guest: Elizabeth Blount McCormick, President and Owner of Uniglobe Travel Designers


Key Quotes:

  • “My sister and I had a call with my mom, who was thinking of selling the business. We told her ‘Don’t sell…we’d like to work in the company. Give us a chance.’”
  • “A lot of people my mom hired had watched me grow up. It was challenging. I had so much to learn and to prove. But I was also bringing in a lot of the best practice I had learned. My sister and I had to change the culture, and our mom allowed us to change things.”
  • “We’ve had some millenials come here—and I tell them the world is their oyster, but they have to work hard. I try to lead by example. I’m trying to bring on the right people-you’ve got to surround yourself with people who are smarter-people who are eager and ready to go.”

You’re in Good Company!

I hope you’ve noticed how many articles are appearing in business magazines and newspapers about the roles that women are taking on in family businesses.  If you’ve liked the Daughters in Charge Facebook page, you may have seen some of them, since I post articles there regularly.  It’s so encouraging to see women emerging as strong and effective leaders!

This week I’m featuring several articles that I hope you’ll find interesting as you explore your own role in your family business.  Some of the articles relate to women like you, and others are focused on working women in all settings.  

So, take a look and let me know what you think:

Daughters Rule
Dads and daughters: How to become a family business powerhouse

The Sock Queen of Alabama 
Sheryl Sandberg on the Myth of the Catty Woman 
Women in business: ‘Let’s show our daughters the fun in leading and being gutsy’

If you spot articles you think other women will enjoy, please send them to me at and I’ll be happy to share them!









From Father To Daughter

Thanks so much to those of you who’ve contacted me about participating in the research on women in family businesses.  There’s still time to sign up!  Just email me with your name and the name of your family’s business and I’ll send you the link to the survey.

This week I’d like to share with you an article I wrote that was published in Family Business Magazine this month.  The May/June issue focuses on women CEOs in family businesses, and my article is called “From Father To Daughter”. 

Click Here To Read Article

I hope you enjoy the article-and I hope you’ll keep sending me your questions and stories.  Don’t forget, if you’d like to consider participating on a podcast, just email me and we can set it up through Skype.


Ask Amy: Knowing When It’s Time to Leave

Dear Amy,

My dad and his sister are partners in the family’s successful car dealership. I’m 24, and I really love working with my dad–he’s very caring and understanding and I’ve learned a lot from him.  Unfortunately, he’s planning to step down in the next year and my aunt is very power hungry.  She’s a lot younger than he is and I know she plans to continue working for at least another 10 years. She is feeling very defensive that I’m there–none of her two daughters are interested in joining the business, which I know is a disappointment to her. Also, she doesn’t like things done in new ways, and I feel like there is no negotiating with her. I’ve had meetings with her to discuss things that need to stay the same or things that need to change-and even though she’s nice, after the meeting she threatens all the employees that if they listen to me they will get fired. I don’t think this is a nice way to treat employees, but I also don’t know how to get through to her.  Please help!  


Dear Laney,

What an awful position for you!  Your aunt does sound very difficult. I’m going to ask you a pretty direct question:  Do you have to stay there?  The reason for the question is that you’re still at a very early stage of your career, a time when many young women have the flexibility to make choices and even to try out several jobs before they decide what’s right for them.

The challenge of “should I stay or should I go” can be a very tough one-many daughters wrestle with this question off and on, depending on what’s happening in the business or in their personal lives. You’re young, and I’m assuming you’re flexible. Perhaps this is a good time to at least explore other options. Keep in mind that you have had some good business experience, you understand the need for businesses to adapt and change, you are sensitive to employee concerns, and you personally want to have influence on the way things are run. The experiences you’ve had and the skills you’ve developed will serve you well in any workplace.

Amy Katz

Sometimes people assume they’ll join the family business and never question their choice or consider other options. I hope you’ll take the time now to do just that. Fighting what sounds like an uphill battle may be worth it one day….but 10 years is a long time.


How Family Business Centers Support Women and their Businesses | Lanie Jordan | Episode 048

Theme: How Family Business Centers Support Women

Summary: Lanie Jordan, Executive Director of the Family Business Alliance at Wilkes University, describes how college-based family business centers can support women through education, peer groups, events, and research.

Featured Guest: Lanie Jordan: Executive Director of the Family Business Alliance at Wilkes University.

Website: Family Business Alliance – Wilkes University

Key Quotes:

  • “We see amazing opportunities for women…about 24% of family businesses are led by female CEOs or presidents. Women are making great strides in family businesses…it’s such a vast contrast to corporate trends.”
  • ” There are 50 university-based centers that are affordable, that have wonderful speakers…and that provide an opportunity to engage with other families. Knowing that others have tread the waters you’re in can change your outlook.”
  • ” The most important thing that women can do is to find a place where there are other women are in your shoes. Find a safe space where you can share your situation where you can feel unjudged and supported….and also accountable.”

What to Look for in an Advisor | Holly Isdale | Episode 047


Theme: The Importance of Trusting Your Advisor

Summary: Selecting an advisor who protects your interests is crucial for women in family businesses. Holly Isdale discusses how women in family businesses can learn to protect their information-and themselves.

Featured Guest: Holly Isdale: Founder and Strategist for Wealthaven, a consulting firm which serves very wealthy families and family businesses and helps them implement their goals.


Key Quotes:

  • “In family businesses, really good estate plans can fall short or get outdated very quickly. They’re designed with one goal in mind: preserve the family business. This creates this awful dilemma…not thinking about the implications for the beneficiaries.”
  • “For younger women, it’s about knowing yourself, how you make decisions, and how you maximize your voice in the process.”
  • “I’m a big believer that you should understand the landscape (of advisors)-meeting with other advisors, lawyers…not your father’s. It’s important for daughters to understand where the conflicts lie and where the allegiances lie.”

Do you really need an MBA?

woman-bis-schoolA good friend of mine recently expressed her frustration because her husband, who decided to make a career change, has been slow to network, circulate his resume, or show the kind of initiative that would help him find a job. My friend has held several great positions throughout her career and currently leads a sales department in a large organization. I wasn’t surprised that she was having trouble understanding her husband’s behavior.

I thought for a moment about how to be helpful. I reminded her that she grew up with a father who was a very successful businessman, who talked about the business all the time, and who encouraged assertiveness and a “sales mentality” in his four daughters. I explained that her dad taught her and her sisters about the business world in the same way that daughters working in a family business learn about it-they grew up with it!

Her husband, on the other hand, grew up with a father who was a science professor at the same college his entire life. Until recently, her husband had followed in his dad’s footsteps, teaching the same subject, in the same college. Like his dad, he has a Ph.D., but little to no experience selling himself–or anything else. He learned how to be a great teacher, but not a businessperson.

This was an “aha moment” for my friend. She hadn’t realized how much her father’s business had helped her develop her business savvy and skills. She realized that her husband was just inexperienced and probably a bit uncertain about what to do-and that she might be more helpful to him once she got over her surprise and annoyance that it was so hard for him.

I thought about my friend when talking with a group of daughters recently who were questioning their expertise in business, “because I never got an MBA”.  I reminded the daughters that they have a lifetime of knowledge based on their history in a family business.  The issues they were talking about-deciding whether to retain a difficult employee, managing changes of all kind, the need for new products-were really about the challenges of handling unexpected situations at work-something every business owner faces on a regular basis. An MBA might help, but the deep knowledge and experience they had developed throughout their lives were equally valuable (and maybe more).

My simple message?  Don’t sell yourself short. I’m confident that you know more than you think you do, and probably, more than most people in business know.  It’s in your DNA!  Of course, if you think an MBA will help–go for it!

“Ambassadors” Fill Downton Abbey Void (and teach about leadership)

Have you become as addicted to British TV as I have?  With the end of Downton Abbey I’ve been in a slump, eager to replace my fascination with its characters (particularly the women) with a suitable and equally engaging British program.

I found it.  It’s called “Ambassador.”  It was filmed in 1998 and it’s just two seasons long.  It doesn’t feature beautiful clothes, or breathtaking settings, or upstairs/downstairs intrigue, but it does portray a smart, compassionate, and strong female leader who navigates a wide range of complicated situations with dignity and grace.  Her name is Harriet Smith, but people refer to her simply as “Ambassador”, because she is the British ambassador to Ireland in the late 1990’s.

Harriet is truly a woman in charge.  She has the capacity to view each challenge she faces with a wide-angle lens, somehow able to take in and tackle the emotional and political complexities of every situation and make things right.  She is unafraid to question, to break a few rules, and to admit mistakes-with her children, world leaders, or ordinary citizens of the two countries she serves.

I have no doubt that Madam Secretary, the very popular US show featuring Tia Leoni, has its roots in the character of Harriet.  Both women are portrayed as thoughtful, real human beings at home and at work, and both lead a team of people who know that they are supported and who support them in return. It’s leadership at its best.

Take the time to get to know Harriet and Elizabeth, not because they’re women, not just because they’re leaders, and not because they manage work/life balance reasonably well.  They’re worth watching because they’re both thoughtful and committed ambassadors. Their roles require them to manage relationships, negotiate skillfully, intervene in crises, and to be “on stage” wherever they go.

Diplomatic skills may come in handy for daughters in charge, too.