Coping with loss… is it too soon?

Are you coping with a loss in your life? Is someone you work with? By the time we’re in the workforce, most of us have experienced grief in some way, but rarely does the loss of a loved one or a significant trauma in our lives become a topic we’re comfortable discussing at work. In their new book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore ways we can all help each other cope with the losses in our lives.

Last night I had the opportunity to hear Sheryl and Adam talk about their book, which focuses on how Sheryl is learning to cope with her husband’s death a few years ago. You probably heard about it, since Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and Adam is a well-known psychologist and author. They are good friends and thoughtful, sensitive, and often funny speakers. The audience was riveted. I certainly was.

Perhaps the most surprising learning for me occurred when Sheryl talked about the loss of confidence she experienced at work. The idea that Sheryl Sandberg felt she could no longer do her job well stunned me. Sheryl Sandberg-the woman who wrote Lean In– lacking confidence?

I’m starting to wonder if both men and women feel a bit “de-skilled” when they are in the midst of managing a loss or an unwanted change. Most people I’ve worked with put on a brave face and throw themselves back into work, and I’ve assumed they felt better back in a routine. Until I heard Sheryl talk about her own feelings, it never occurred to me that losing confidence might be something they struggled with, or that “getting back in the saddle” too soon might not be such a great idea-for the person and for the organization.

Sheryl is in a position to influence Facebook to rethink its policies and management practices related to supporting employees who are dealing with upsetting events in their lives. As a daughter in a family business, you probably are too. Read Option B, and think about it. By reviewing and raising questions about how your business supports employees through difficult times, you might be making one of your most valuable contributions.

Summer Memories

I often think of summer as a time of making memories. Travel, camping, even the excitement of a first summer job…all of these experiences are opportunities for creating great moments and memories that can last a lifetime.

In my work with family businesses, I’ve heard about a variety of summer experiences. Some families vacation as a large group, with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins all in one place. Other families make sure that summer provides a real (and often vital) escape from the family members they work with every day. And if you’re lucky enough to own or to share an inherited family cottage, that place can provide a sense of continuity and connection that spans generations.

What memories will you make for yourself this summer? Between working in your family’s business, and for some of you, figuring out summer schedules for other family members, you may not even be thinking about what kind of experiences you can create for yourself.


Here are some ideas to consider:

If you’re single, don’t fall into the trap of promising to be available to the business while other family members are away and ignoring your own vacation-it’s just as important. Summers can be a time of real adventure for you. I was single for a long time and when I finally realized I could plan a trip just for myself -to a dude ranch in Montana-and it was life-changing.

If you’re planning a vacation for a partner, spouse, or family, don’t forget to plan for yourself. Women often get so absorbed in making sure that everyone else has a good time that they literally forget that it’s their vacation, too. You don’t have to do it all. Create a day or two just for you, and make it memorable.

If you and your family share a summer home or cottage, and particularly if has belonged to your family for generations, you are probably familiar with the conflicts that can arise as different family groups negotiate their time there and assure that the property is well-maintained. Treating the family cottage as a family business is important-just try to do that work throughout the year so that you all enjoy the summers. There’s even been a book written about this, called Saving the Family Cottage (

If your family is large, with many siblings working in the business and kids who will one day take over, set some boundaries if you can. Talking about business on vacation may not be relaxing. On the other hand, it may be important. Consider encouraging everyone to set aside one or two mornings to talk about the business and its future, and to answer questions from family members who don’t work in the business-or hope to one day. This can be an easy way to do some long range planning for the future.

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!


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.