The way Henry Ford planned the introduction of his siblings into Ford Motor Company is an interesting one and certainly food for thought for many family businesses. In essence he wanted his children to initially find their own way, achieve their own success and eventually invite them into the family business for the second half of their careers.
I understand the idea behind it but surely it carries a significant risk too? Having gone their separate ways into a number of very different industries and absolutely not related to automotive manufacturing, is there not a risk of them steering the ship in the wrong direction or upsetting the culture that has taken so long to develop? Is there also not a risk that other leaders in the business, who have worked hard to move up the hierarchical ladder, could react negatively and be demotivated by such a move?
We work with a lot of family owned businesses and have partnered those who have had children in the business from leaving school through to those who have gone down the same route as Henry Ford.
The school leavers struggle to bring much to the party after a while unless they proactively invest in personal development and gain good exposure to other companies and industries away from their family business. Clearly there are huge successes that we could talk about. The likes of Jason Tyldsley of Sofa Workshop is a prime example of someone who took over his family's second hand furniture shop and used his creative imagination, drive and determination to create a very different value proposition that excelled in the UK market. Without this level of curiosity and personal learning it is difficult to see how the school leaving family members can take a company to new levels.
On the other hand, we have also worked with businesses who have a mix of school leaving family members and others who have built a career outside the company and then come back in at a later stage. We have seen resentment here. Imagine spilling blood, sweat and tears only to see another sibling join later and have an equal say in the business. Poking and prodding the areas for improvements etc...!!
All in all, there is no right way but if either is to deliver success then my recommendation is that you put the same performance management criteria around a family member as you would a regular employee. They should not be treated any differently and by doing this you will ensure they keep developing and improving whilst ensuring that other employees will gain a respect for them. Let them earn their keep!
Henry knew that family businesses last across generations only if they have engaged owners. Even Henry’s best independent, nonfamily board members lacked the long-term perspective that great owners instinctively have. “I never treat a rental car like one I own,” Henry would say. But even though his children may someday “own’’ the car, it wasn’t yet obvious to Henry how to develop their talents within the business — and how to make sure they all found their highest and best use. “What role can my artist daughter possibly have in our family business?” Henry pondered. “And my sons have a fierce sibling rivalry.”