Grooming heirs to the family business

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I met Pratik* at a client’s wedding reception. Affable, confident, surrounded by his friends, the young scion of a construction business empire seemed at ease with himself and invited me to his office the next day for a meeting on ideas on how to train his sales team. 

 However, Pratik appeared different the next day. Even though he was well qualified, having studied business management at a premier university abroad and had travelled the world, he was not able to articulate his ideas before his sales team and I could clearly see that he was not at ease in the presence of his father.

 A few days later, Pratik confided in me. The main challenge for him was to get his father to acknowledge that Pratik had the ability to take over the business and take decisions. “As a future leader, I have to prove myself in order to retain valuable workers. This means I have to work twice as hard” said Pratik. 

 While he had been made head of strategic planning, sales and human resources, family preferences dictated every decision he tried to take. The conflict between the desire to maintain tradition versus progressing the business in response to the changing marketplace was very stressful for Pratik. In spite of being the only child and heir apparent to a large business empire, he was struggling to be accepted into the family business. Pratik felt like a failure.

 Pratik often found himself being compared unfavourably to his father and every slight slip-up was seen as a huge mistake, brought up at every opportunity. Moreover, he found himself struggling to correct his seniors at work. How could he? They had seen him as a child. How could he be disrespectful to them? 

I understood Pratik wanted to introduce further professionalism and he wanted to take his own decisions but without offending his senior generation. Also, Pratik’s cousins were shareholders but not active in the business and they failed to understand his objectives. We could foresee how sibling rivalry could create problems in the future. 

 Like Pratik, many young entrants to the family business have grown up listening to stories about the business. Stories of how it all started from a small industrial gala, how the team pulled off a project within an impossible deadline, location of a new factory form part of dinner-time conversations and youngsters are keen to start playing their part on completing their education.

However, the old brigade is often sceptical of their abilities and resistant to change because ‘that’s the way we have done it.’ The young heirs are left out of key decisions and feel stifled.

, Pratik’s story was familiar to me where leadership traits can be often misconstrued as arrogance or ‘too-big-for-his-boots’. Gaining support for their new ideas, winning the respect of their seniors and pressure to prove oneself in the eyes of the family is immense.

Over a series of personal consultation sessions, I learnt, Pratik was intelligent, humble, innovative and had aspirations to expand his family business. I worked extensively with him to establish personal goals and vision for the business.

As part of the preparation to enter the family business Pratik was guided on:

• Different facets of corporate culture

• Team management and leadership skills

• Current strengths and weaknesses for improvement in skill sets.

• Strong time management skills to accomplish projects on time

• Presentation skills to connect easily with his/ her audience to make an influential impact 

• Communication skills on how to deal with crucial and difficult conversations with senior family members.

• Right attitude for constant self – improvement

• The need for community service projects

• Well-being and growth of employees

• Personal grooming and dressing for success

• Business Etiquette while dining

• Networking skills

*Client names are fictitious and refer to no one in particular.

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