Children raised in Oregon’s family businesses are one of our community’s greatest resources. Among INC’s 500 fastest-growing private companies just under half were run by entrepreneurs who grew up in a family business.

Whether there is room to return to the business or in starting new businesses, next generation business leaders have learned critical skills for growing Oregon’s economy.

About 25 percent of Oregon State University students grew up in a family business. In fact, 8 percent of these students are shareholders in the family enterprise. I have the opportunity to teach these students each spring term as part of the Family Business Management class at the OSU College of Business.  These students are consistently thoughtful, hardworking and emotionally intelligent young professionals who have much to offer their families, their professions and Oregon.

The seminar format featuring invited guest speakers offers frank discussions from a variety of family business CEOs. These exchanges help students navigate complex career and family issues with helpful insights. Each year a common set of student concerns emerge.

Who will take my work experience seriously if my family’s name is the employer on my resume?

Family business students have more meaningful work experience than their peers do because they are part of the family. Giving young family members appropriately titled positions and delineating responsibilities allows them to document transferable job skills.

How do I work with my cousins who don’t seem serious about the work but have been hired by my family?

Preparation to support the returning business graduate can occur while children are in high school and making post-secondary education decisions. Developing a family employment policy that delineates the requirements of relatives working in the business clarifies expectations and opportunities for a family business career.

One highly talented student did not even consider the family business because of a less committed older cousin. Over the course of the term, she realized, along with her parents, that she had significant contributions to make in leading the family business. They also realized that her cousin would flourish, in a separate division, with his technical skills. The second-generation family team running the business worked to define these roles and contributions based on education, placing the third generation in positions that matched their fullest potential.

How can I have more balance in my life than my parents had in theirs?

Lack of family time is pervasive among students and sometimes reflects their experience of a “missing” parent during their childhood. Visiting CEOs are challenged by this question. Every family business owner meets their family commitments differently. The importance of family harmony should not be overlooked because it will drive the long-term success of the business.

How do I tell my parents that I don’t want to work in the business?

When students honestly examine their experiences, they may realize that they can’t commit to leading the family business if their interests are in other areas. It’s better to have this conversation honestly and early than to build a succession plan based on a promise that will be broken down the road.

Two factors can help in this situation. First, we encourage families to have conversations with their children about their business interests on a regular basis. Interests, and businesses, change over time. The ongoing dialogue removes the high drama and tension associated with a single decision point, often under stressful circumstances.

Also, students can stay connected to the business as shareholders or as part of the advisory board. One of our recent graduates helped his family sell the business after none of the other children were interested. He helped his parents gain more value in the sale of the assets to another family business and honored his grandfather’s legacy in new and related ventures.

Giving young professionals from Oregon’s family businesses the opportunity to plan their entry into the state’s business sector intentionally has longterm rewards. Students appreciate and build on the advantage of their experience. The informed and intentional commitments they make will have lasting impact and honor theie family’s enterprising legacy.

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