There’s a relative I haven’t spoken to in five years. Half the family hasn’t spoken to him for even longer, and it was a consequence of running a family business. My name is Michael Catanzarite, and in this series of posts I will be going over some of the unique challenges that face family businesses of all sizes. One caveat is that every family’s dynamic is unique, and we’ll be using broad strokes here based on my experience of working in a family business that grew from relatively small to the largest arts and crafts wholesaler in the country.


Family coming first sounds good, but the reality is that as your business (and family) grows, at some point, you will have to put the business ahead of a family member. I don’t mean choosing to spend time at work instead of with your kids. I mean potentially having to fire someone. This should be a last resort, but your business is there to support your entire family. It’s something you started and put your heart and soul into, and you can’t let one problem person screw it up. It’s also unfair to your employees, some of whom will become like family. In my case, a family member was fired, and it divided us. For the sake of this post, it doesn’t matter who was right or wrong, the point is he was one of 1,500 employees, and no one was untouchable. This person wasn’t stealing, wasn’t a screw-up, it was simply a personality conflict that had gone on a long time and was potentially causing issues with other employees who didn’t have the power to do anything. The person who did the firing thought they were doing what was best for the business, but I don’t think they thought through the repercussions.

In a smaller business, a squeaky wheel sticks out even more. Let’s be honest, the bigger your family is, the more likely someone isn’t going to work out. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, just a bad fit, or maybe they just don’t like the job. Of course, there’s also the chance they’re just an idiot. Every family has one. That‘s ok. Talk to them and see where their head is at. If they’re there out of a sense of obligation, encourage them to move on and find something they like. Forcing someone to work in the family business never works out, and they’ll resent you for it. This will fester and eventually blow up in your face. In our family, we were encouraged NOT to work there. Why? Because it was hard, stressful, and could make you feel trapped. I left the business for five years to go and do something on my own. It was a great experience, and when I returned, it was with a new perspective.

So make up your mind if you truly always want to put family first. Just know that if you do, the business may suffer, and your other employees will most certainly resent you.

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