A reader asks
So I’m a 20-year-old law student. My father runs an olive oil business that he expressed for my cousins and me to run in the future. However, I’ve already been assigned the role of research and development without a choice. It has also been made clear that I will be responsible for running the website and other technical aspects of the business in the future, which I do not see myself doing in the future. I have no clue what to do because I wanted to gain some business experience and skill, but I also do not want to be boxed into a situation that is out of my control. If you can, some advice will help.
While this seems like a career question, it’s actually a family dynamic question. Your father assumes that you will do what he wants. He probably did what his father wanted. Your cousins are doing what he says. It’s just how it is.
The thing is, you’re an adult. You don’t have to do what he wants you to do. You can simply say, “Nah, I don’t wanna do that. I’m going to be an attorney and work somewhere else.”
The problem comes with how your father and all your relatives will react when you say this. I mean, let’s look at how the Mountbatten-Windsor family reacted when Harry decided he didn’t want to be part of the family business anymore. High drama. I doubt your family has titles that your mom can revoke, but it can make Sunday dinner at grandma’s house very, very uncomfortable.
As a general rule, I don’t like family businesses for this reason. There’s pressure to stay when you don’t want to. Then there’s pressure to give a job to cousin Steve because he is faaaaaaaaammmmmiiiilllly even though he’s a slacker who will never contribute to the business. Then the non-family employees get frustrated because they’ll never get the pay and title for their job. After all, Steve has the title and salary.
Some family businesses work out great! For sure! But that requires everyone to have both business sense and boundaries.
It’s time to sit down with dad and express your concerns. He may be awesome, say he understands, will support you in what you want to do, et cetera. If he’s not willing to listen to you when you are only acting as his child, then understand he will be a terrible boss as well.
You have to decide: do you want to be in a job you don’t want to do to keep the peace in the family, or do you want to go off on your own and possibly cause family disruption?
Both are completely reasonable responses. And the family disruption may be short-lived as everyone realizes that genetics doesn’t mean you will be happy or a good fit in the family business.
It’s a conversation you need to have, though. If you ignore it, you will end up stressed out and unhappy. See what happens when you push back. Point out that every business needs lawyers and that it’s best for the business if you focus on that rather than on the website.
2 thoughts on “Pressed into the Family Olive Oil Business”
Also, think about how this will impact your future job search, particularly, references. Potential employers tend to be skeptical of references from family members even if you work for them. Family-run businesses generally are not like other businesses when it comes to the work environment (less structure, weird drama, etc.). This can make it difficult to transition to another company.
Plus, in my experience with these situations, parents tend to either overpay or underpay their children (with the latter, sometimes even not paying them via guilt trips).
I would think long and hard before committing yourself to this.
If this is a close-knit family, then verbal discussions no matter how vocal can and will occur on an outgoing basis. I get that the father wants to pass the family business on to his children, but how and what of exactly it should fall completely on to them because they will be running the business. I am quite sure that all the father wants to do is keep the business in the family. This 20-year-old pre-law student doesn’t realize what kind of fallback financial opportunity is being given even though they at 20 feel it is not their present life goal. If they can discuss this calmly, without emotional outbursts, in a family meeting, I am sure a rational solution can be made. I just don’t advise a life commitment at their present age to anything as their commitment right now is to get the degree they are in school pursuing. Most law degrees involve college (4 years) and 3 years after unless they are in a law program that doesn’t require a college degree. They can re-visit the situation after getting their degrees.
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