I’ll never grow up, but you gotta understand me Dad: Perspective Taking and Family Business Misfit

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Me and my old man never really saw eye-to-eye, but that never stopped us from growing a very successful family business.  Pretty obvious that parent-child relationship quality impacts people’s lives. Yet, even if there is a misfit, success can still be had...

In the family business context, the relationship between parents, often the business founders, and their children, often the successors, has a direct effect on the success of a family business. Although family companies are actually more valuable than public companies and play a major role within the US economy, only around 30% of family firms reach the third generations of successors. A potential lack of fit between parent and their adult children’s goal(s) may perhaps in some degree be related to such a low survival rate … IF left unattended. This was the case for me until I met my old man head on. 

Agency issues may arise given that the principal (parent) and the agent (adult child) may have conflicting goals. Parents will do the best they can to provide a better future for their children – it is genetically wired after all. Even though, the best intentions may sometimes translate into undesired outcomes. Earlier in my career, when I started working with my father as a freshly minted engineer, the only thing that made sense to me at that time was to pursue the same professional goal of my old man. This came natural to me because I worshiped my father – he was everything to me. Yet, deep down, I was developing my own perspective of life and work and this did not completely mesh with his mantra. During twenty years of hard work, me and my old man went through several epic battles, but we also achieved massive professional triumphs. I don’t exactly recall when it happened, but eventually I realized that the differences between my father's and my own professional goals were mutually acknowledged as an acceptable lack of fit between our life & work goals – we were just a couple of Misfits who deeply cared for one another and our family business! Once we recognized and accepted this, we both experienced a significant change in the quality of our relationship - positively affecting our personal and professional relationship, and ultimately the success of the family business. This was in the early days of perspective taking and was a very healthy exercise for us and our business. 

Relationship quality will improve if the multi-generational members of a family business discuss and embrace their misfit rather than forcing an artificial fit towards the relationship. Forcing fit will not work for any member. Parents and adult children that engage efforts to understand and deal with the differences between their life goals are likely to succeed in a much broader spectrum. In this sense, perspective-taking can help mitigate the harmful effect of not recognizing other’s right to pursue their own goals and how multiple sub-goals can still fulfill the primary family business goal – success. 

Acknowledge and accept differences across familial generations so all members can thrive. As Truman put it, “The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”


About the author:

Marcio works in his family business, Metalsider, and currently the director in charge of the internal and external markets, purchase, forest coordination and strategic planning. In the past he has overseen (1) research on the reuse of solid waste resulting from the cleaning of gases, (2) operational, industrial, financial, exports, and coordination of the company’s rural estates, including land acquisition, (3) charcoal production and acquisition, (4) development and implementation of an electrical power plant (CAPEX U$25.000.000), and (5) greenfield project for an Metalsider ‘s iron castings foundry (CAPEX of U$100.000.000).

Interesting fact: Holds the black belt in Aikido and in Brasilian Jiujitsu.