It’s all in the family

It’s all in the family

Google is my preferred search engine when I’m looking up information on the Internet. I like that I can type a question into the search bar. With this article’s focus on family businesses, I asked Google, “What percentage of businesses are family owned?” I was very surprised at the answer which came from an Inc. magazine source – “Today family-owned businesses are recognized as important and dynamic participants in the world economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, about 90 percent of American businesses are family-owned or controlled.”

90 percent!?! Polling my client list, roughly 70% of the companies with whom I work are family-owned or controlled.

I work in a family business, although it was never specifically planned this way. I was always encouraged to follow a path that I chose.

I have a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in marketing from Georgia State University in Atlanta. When I graduated, I was looking for a job in Atlanta.

Unfortunately, the market for entry-level positions in advertising agencies was very small at the time. I had the choice to either find a job other than in my field of study or to take advantage of the family business to build my experience for three to five years. I chose to get the experience I was lacking. That was over 25 years ago, and that was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made. Sorry, Atlanta, you’re fun to visit, but Tupelo is my home.

If you are in a family business, I wonder if you get the same questions that come my way from time-to-time like, “Is it difficult working for your father?” We’re on the same team working toward the same goal which is to aid and assist our clients. Once I realized that I worked with him and not for him, this became easier for both of us. We don’t always agree, but we don’t argue. As General George S. Patton said, “If everyone is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.” We like to put all ideas on the table to see which will work best. It’s a collaboration.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that it bothers a lot of people that I refer to my father as “Tom.” When speaking to him, I call him “Dad.” When talking about him, I call him “Tom.” This is for several reasons. The most important is that I don’t assume that everyone knows we’re related. I’m not trying to hide that fact, but the focus is on the client, not us. And, working with Scouting for as many years as I have, if one kid yells out “Dad,” all the fathers are looking around to see if it is their son calling. That’s amusingly confusing.

I won’t paint a Pollyanna picture that everything is perfect in our family business. Both of us have made a conscious effort to make the family business work, and it has. Had you asked me when I was in high school if I would still be in Tupelo working for the family business, I would have laughed. Now I can’t think of anything else that I’d rather have done.

One final thought. Tom and I are blood related, so I’m “family by birth.” There are some folks who have been together so long that they’ve built a relationship of “family by choice.” So that 90% that I referenced from Inc. magazine with the definition amended is reaching closer and closer to 100%. Because business, like family, is all about relationships.

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