Career Path for the Next Generation

Back in the day, and not so long ago, family members entering the family firm would be mentored by the loyal employees of the firm. Many of those folks had been with the company for decades, planned to retire at the end of their career and their retirement was funded by their employer. They saw the teaching and mentoring of the young talent as part of their job and they were glad to do it.

That was then and this is now.

Current Situation
Today is very different. We are told that Generation X and Y are likely to have four careers and who knows how many jobs within those careers. The loyalty between employer and employee has vanished along with the Defined Benefit Pension Plan! Even many of those retirement plans -“ once thought to be untouchable and federally insured -“ have taken a hair cut or been eliminated. Unfunded Liability has become the whispered nightmare of the Balance Sheet.

Now that we’ve all grown up and become responsible for ourselves, we have our ear to the pavement for the next great job. Without the handcuffs that the “golden” retirement offered, there is no reason to stay! You can take your 401(k) with you when you leave and there is a line waiting at the door to replace you.

Joining the Family Firm
If you are lucky enough to belong to a family that owns a business, the employment prospect is different. Spoken or not, you may feel like a job, if not a career, awaits you with the company. Perhaps your parents and siblings have discussed joining the family business -“ or, better yet, some Rules for Entry have been established and a game plan exists. Anyhow, just suppose that you have joined the family’s business-¦what now?

It’s not one of those four career situations. It is probably seen by both you and your employer as a job for life. If all goes well, you will own the place one day! The job comes with risk and it is a different risk than a non-family business job: the risk of disappointing your employer who is also your parent or sibling, the risk of things going bad and influencing the family dynamics, the risk of broken relationships between loved ones.

Yet there is also great opportunity. One of those opportunities is a fast-track career. You are there because of the lucky gene pool, and that gene pool seems to say that you should be good at this. Because you are family, you are a trusted member of the business inner circle. You should pass directly to the winner’s circle.

All that’s left is gaining the knowledge and experience needed to be the next CEO! And how is that going to happen?

Those old-school loyal employees used to be there for the job of mentoring. Now they are gone! They have been replaced with the new model that sees you as a threat to take over her job. Furthermore, her mindset is OK with that. Remember she has been told that she is going to have four careers. Instead of seeing you as the boss’s daughter -“ someone to be nurtured and molded into a great leader and manager -“ you are seen as a replacement! There are no bonus points for helping you along your career path. Existing employees keep their distance and maintain their knowledge base close to the breast. Could be that the worst assignment in the whole company is being shadowed by the boss’s kid!

OK -“ if we can’t get the key employees to help out with the mentoring task, then maybe Mom and/or Dad should do it. WRONG! By the time a child reaches a position in the company, Mom and Dad have had a lot of input. Maybe their mentoring hasn’t been on business practices, policies or acumen, but it has been on values, ethics and protocols. It is a mistake to try to piggyback the role of business mentor on that of a parent. Later in the next generationer’s career there will be ample time to hone the skills by sharpening the knife, but not at this early stage.

Replacing Mentoring
One way to fill the mentoring void is by joining a peer group like Vistage, (formerly TEC -“ The Executive Committee). Peer groups encourage the sharing of business plans and practices to examine what works best. The peer group acts alike an Advisory Board. They have professional staff (called a Chairperson) who can offer advice and consultation along with the other peers.

The old Mentoring is the new Executive Coaching. There has been a growing movement of professional coaches who help executives in all career phases. Coaches are the mentors of today. Many coaches are professionals looking for a new way to mentor and various certifications set up a practice methodology standard. Coaches are certified with the designation of Certified Professional Coach and most already hold masters or doctorate degrees. Coaching provides a broad spectrum of education and self-awareness. And, it is a fresh experienced individual who is guiding our executive-in-training. Coaching is usually done by phone on a regularly scheduled basis, so distance and travel don’t get in the way.

If you or your employer sees the need for mentoring, try Executive Coaching. There are too many reference sites to offer; a Google search of Executive Coaching will yield almost 8 million results. Be sure you make “Family Business” part of your search criteria, and you should begin your search for a coach at the Family Firm Institute ( to find a coach who also has good family business acumen.

Rick Segal is the principal at Segal Consulting. He holds a Certificate in Family Business Advising with a Fellows status from the Family Firm Institute. He is the founder of the Family Business Council and its affiliated Study Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.