There’s a unique dynamic within family business. When your parent is your boss and your siblings are your coworkers, you’re bound to encounter struggles, victories, and other unique situations. These are the dynamics that those who aren’t in the business of family business could never imagine. This week, Brent, Trudy (Brent’s wife) and Alyssa (Brent’s daughter) are sitting down to discuss what it’s like working together in family business.

Individuals in family business often comment that they believe working in the business is actually more difficult than working outside of it. Do you believe this to be true? Why?

Brent:
Without question. When you blend the feeling and emotion of people who are related with the objectivity and level of commitment the business requires, you have the potential for complexity. It’s easy to say that the business has to come first. It’s much harder to practically understand and act on what that means. This is the constant battle that the business has the potential to wage in the family.

Trudy:
I think that this depends on your role in the family and your role in the business. As a wife, I work in a different dynamic than the children in the business. The most difficult aspect is the comfort level you have with your family. You feel you can say anything and everyone will be ok. You sometimes speak to your family in a tone that you may not use with others. Remembering that as a family member, we still have responsibilities as an employee, and both need to be respected. There are also times that you may feel more accountability to outside organizations because you feel like the family will be more lenient or tolerant when you do not perform, or make mistakes. There has to be an understanding of excellence in performance in a family business that is equal to any outside organization you may work with.

Alyssa:
I find this to be true because of communication dynamics. When you work with family there is significantly more context to your communication habits. While this can be a blessing at times; like when you feel as if you can read each other’s minds, it can also be frustrating when you feel like all of your past selves are on display in conversations as well.

How does working together in the business impact your relationships with one another outside of the business?

Brent: 
When you recognize that there’s no magical on-off switch to commitment, you can clearly understand the potential for a relational impact that’s both positive and negative. There are more days where personal and professional relationships are clear and contributive both at work and at home. I enjoyed working in my mom’s business growing-up and I genuinely enjoy working with family today.  There are however those moments, situations or approaches that have the ability to move everyone towards engaged emotion and away from reaction control. Having the self-awareness to understand which is which is what allows us to keep each other whole and valued as people and as members of the team. Working with family requires vigilance and awareness and it requires that you ask this question: Is it really success if you don’t love each other in the end?

Trudy:
There are times this is very difficult. I like to tease that he is the boss at work, and I am the boss at home. But realistically, it requires an awareness of roles both professionally and personally. Recognizing and remembering that we are on the same team is important.  It can be challenging to keep work at an appropriate focus level when we are spending time outside the office. You never leave work at the office when you own your own business, and it’s even more difficult when the family also shares in the passion for the business. It’s easy to talk shop at any time of the day or week. Patience with each other and open communication is important when the roles collide. Shifting of hats from boss to husband, or from office manager to wife is important so that you feel mutually respected and equal when we are outside the business.

Alyssa:
I’d say that working with my dad has actually improved our relationship outside of work. We both like working and being able to connect over business topics works well for us. We can challenge each other in a different way than we could before working together. Plus, he works so much that he’s quite hard to get ahold of outside of our scheduled calls. (He would refute and say I don’t answer my phone on the weekends, which is in part true because I’m normally riding my bike to lunch and around the city).

Alyssa, your dad commented in his book that sometimes he still sees you at 16 years old rather than as a professional with your own skillset. What do you do to remind him of who you are now?

Alyssa
This used to bother me more than it does now. I used to feel like I had to step out from under the shadow of him seeing me as a younger version of myself so that I could be valued as a professional. Now, I can appreciate the fact that I will always be his daughter and he carries perceptions that I can’t change or control. To help shift some of those lingering perceptions though, I continue to focus on defining my own identity and being visible in new spaces. It helps that I’m not a full-time employee and I have built my own business outside of my work with PDI. Having passions for similar topics but wanting to use them in vastly different ways for completely unique audiences has been a fun evolution as well. I’ve been able to take so many things I’ve learned from him throughout my life and apply it to new spaces that are interesting to me. As I continue to expand in multiple directions so do his perceptions and my patience.

Trudy, what is it like playing the role of Brent’s wife and his colleague?

Trudy:
Brent differentiates each role of mine with his clients. He introduces me as his colleague in business settings when his intent is to establish my own credibility as a representative of Perpetual Development, not as his wife. It takes an awareness on both parts to respect every hat we wear together, and how that needs to be represented in each situation. I am fortunate in my professional life to have an amazing role model, mentor and colleague in Brent. He values my opinion, and we work together as colleagues that can support each other and rely on each other’s expertise and strengths when needed. I am a very proud wife, and it’s important that he knows that I support him as my husband, a provider, and a father to our children as well as a colleague. And in the long run, this is the most important to me. I truly get the best of both worlds.

Brent, was becoming a family business intentional?

Brent:
It would be well scripted to say yes and that would be completely inaccurate. Becoming a business was first about survival and it has continually progressed to thriving. Becoming a family business requires two essential ingredients. First, there must be family members who are interested in being a part of the business. Second, those family members must align with a defined role that contributes to the company. When family businesses are not intentional, it usually shows through a collection of family members who think entitlement first and contribution second. I’m thankful to say that Perpetual Development became a family business because the required ingredients were/are present.

Alyssa, it’s important to recognize that you work with your dad on contract rather than as a direct employee. Why is this? 

Alyssa:
We’ve always been clear that I don’t want to work in the family business full time. I’ve watched my dad build this business for most of my life which meant I learned the value of working for myself from a young age. As a result, I was fortunate enough to start my own business right out of college and I love what I’m creating. However, I also love my dad and since our spaces and skills complement each other nicely I enjoy that I can support his business and challenge him to consider new ways of doing things. He does the same for me and that seems to work well for us.

We’re funny because we’re so similar in some regards yet vastly different in some of our core values and driving forces. Working with my dad on a contract basis allows me the freedom and independence I desire but grants me the pleasure and joy of seeing him continue to evolve a business he’s so passionate about.

Brent, how will Perpetual Development continue to grow as a family business?

Brent:
I’ve had the privilege to work within businesses that have had two family members involved and I’ve worked with a company that had 42 family members participating in the organization. Interestingly, both of these businesses are large companies both by the number of people employed and the total sales volume. Evolving as a family business doesn’t necessarily require more family members. The growth of the business is fueled by the expansion of opportunities, causing leaders to think, providing exceptional guidance and limit assumptions about how all of this will happen. Growth has been, and will continue to be, fueled by awareness and understanding that helps our clients arrive at better decisions and outcomes.

Trudy, what do you do to help separate family time from business time? 

Trudy:
Set parameters. In business, there are expectations of performance and commitment to the business.  When you work together in the business, you need to also set expectations and commitments personally. It’s difficult to not talk about the business when you are spending family time together. Part of being able to do that is to schedule time together during the workweek to discuss work issues, so you have business covered and can focus on the family because the work topics have been addressed at another time. We have hobbies that we share, and when it’s time to relax, we do that. We have to plan our time away from work and be deliberate about that time, whether we are with family, friends, or heading off on an adventure.  We both love variety, and most of the time can challenge anyone to keep up. That’s fun for us.

What is the most rewarding part of being a family business?

Brent:
Uniquely, what is most rewarding is consistent both with our clients and within Perpetual Development: Seeing people that you love, care about and are committed to achieving things they may have never imagined because they were willing to think beyond boundaries. Put another way – helping people develop their potential, maximize their capacity and produce definable results. I never lose sight of the unique nature of family business as a differentiator at many levels.

Trudy:
Sharing a goal, and a passion for the same things. Watching the members of the family succeed and grow together toward that goal is exciting, and rewarding. The constant growth and change that we experience does not stop when you leave the office because it carries into all aspects of our life.  The business is a huge part of our lives together, and we don’t get to totally separate that from everything else that we do. It’s because we work together, understand and see what the other is going through that gives us the freedom to be together. How many people get to say “I really love my boss!” and it means so much.  Being on the inside gives me the opportunity to really appreciate everything that goes into a life that is rewarding professionally and personally, and knowing that we have the privilege to do this together every day is such a blessing.

Alyssa:
I think the most rewarding part of being a family business is getting to experience wins together. Because we work together and have such a deep context for what each person does, it offers a depth of understanding to each win (and challenge) that would be harder to comprehend otherwise.

Are you a member of a family business? What is the most rewarding part for you? Let us know in the comments.

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