The Power in a Family Business

by | Dec 11, 2002 | Archives

Crackling orange warmth spreads cozily against the cold. Bound in ancient tradition, circling the fire in common interest, our family grows. This is why families are more than just moms, dads and kids who live together. Lifetime bindings come from shared efforts, common goals and jointly reached success. Yet in today's world it's harder to bring the family together even when doing so increases fulfillment and enhances our finances as well.

One of our family's greatest memories is sitting round the fireplace, stuffing envelopes and doing work for our clients. I am sure we violated a million child labor laws making our kids do grunt work. They loved it. We explained what they were doing, told them how much money we might make and not only let them earn some pocket money but set up bonuses that interested them so they were excited about seeing the results.

A lot of the business ideas we shared back then, stuck and helped our kids who are now adults. The work helped them learn how to set goals, stick with a job and most of all how to think. For example one evening our youngest daughter Eleanor wanted the job of sticking labels on envelopes (she also loved to operate the Pitney Bowes stamp machine). “But you can't read yet,” we explained as we denied her request. She thought about this and pointed out that she could tell numbers from words. “Each label has a number (the zip code) on the bottom,” she said proudly. “Can't I just put the numbers on the bottom?” Who knows how much that success with abstract thinking has increased her confidence in later life.

The kids came to seminars and helped, excited to see a new place, stay in hotels and be useful. Kids love growing up and they want responsibility. If they learn the joy of serving while young, they don't object so much to working in their teens and later on.

Having their help was useful, but more than that it was fun, gave the family common goals, shared achievements and taught the children good work habits and strong values of service.

A recent USA Today article entitled “More Americans put families ahead of work”. (December 5th 2002, front page) shows that Americans are waking to the fact that families are the most important, stable, dependable and fulfilling social unit. This article states that 70% of workers don't think there is a healthy balance between work and personal life.

In this economy working 70 hours a week won't always make a difference on how much one is compensated and 30% of the employees in a national study now find time for the family is their top concern compared to 22% that look at job security as top concern. Many workers are changing firms or jobs so they work less hours and have more time to spend with their kids.

Merri and I took a different approach. We put the kids to work. They embraced it totally especially when we kept it a family affair, doing the jobs together, sitting in the same room, chatting, talking philosophy or religion or the days trials and errors or whatever came to mind. It's wonderful to see how the words flow when you are caught up in doing menial jobs.

One big problem families have in this era is competition from peers. We live in a sick society. This means the average person in our society is sick. They have sick bodies, sick habits, sick attitudes and sick minds. Kids want to be part of the crowd. This creates pressure for kids to do things that their peers do even if it is sick.

Getting the kids involved applies to business or investing because work (with rewards) can attract kids like a magnet. The earlier they start the better. The trick is to realize how incredible their skills can be.

Give kids low pressure, but grown up responsibilities (with commensurate goals) and be amazed at how well they do. They can file, operate computer programs, fold and stuff envelopes, do accounting, operate office equipment and check out stock prices in the newspaper. They can search for and clip articles. Watch how great they are searching the net! They can even make telephone calls. If you are having problems getting someone on the phone, try having a ten-year-old place the call! The process of working, getting paid and achieving success creates mutual goals and kids gain values as they share this with you. Plus I guarantee that if you listen they'll surprise you with fresh and innovative insights!

Life in the modern western world is an ever-increasing juggling act. We must keep up with work, do the mundane, have a social life and take time with the kids. How can we do all this? Working with the kids is one way that accomplishes all these tasks as it enhances your life and makes your business and investing more inspired.