I was 22 when my father asked me if I wanted to join his business. He had an opportunity to expand his operations, and he said he would do so if I was interested to join up. We are a marwari business family and my father had started from scratch. He had worked hard, taken risks, and set up a pharmaceutical manufacturing business employing more than 300 people. It would have been a golden opportunity for me to take off from the solid platform he had already built. Had I joined, we may have been at least 10 times bigger today. But, my reply was a flat out ‘no'. Obviously he was disappointed. But, one of my father's great strengths is clarity. He was sure he did not want to continue to slog it out in business. Over the next 7 to 8 years he systematically shut down all his operations. Now, he enjoys a retired life, nurturing his farmhouse in Mulshi, spending time with his grandchildren, and helping young people like me to think clearly about their life choices.
Over the last 6 years, as I have met with hundreds of business families and their youngsters, I had heard the same story countless times. There is a thriving family business, a solid platform, but the son of daughter don't want to join it. It a source of anxiety for the parents. The children are missing out on a wonderful opportunity for being groomed in business and learning practicalities that no MBA in the world teaches.
Why did I not join my father’s business? It had fantastic potential as it was in the fast growing nutraceutical segment. It was run very systematically as my father is an excellent systems person. Let me share a few reasons. Obviously these were not as clear to me then, as they are in retrospect.
I wanted to continue to have a father, and not a boss
This, I new even then! And I told him so. I told him that “I value my relationship with you as a father-son and I don’t to convert it into one of employee or even business partner." It’s too much to handle, and for a young mind it’s a choice I’d rather not have to make.
I wanted to make my experiments and learn from my own failures.
We had this conversation many times. Father’s are obviously more experienced and they have learnt through their own share of mistakes. Out of love for their children they don't want them to get hurt. Hence they try to stop them from making mistakes they have made, or seen others making. Now, this is a great thing, and we should learn from other's mistakes. But often, as youngsters we want to conduct our own 'experiments with the truth’ and discover our own ways. Not being able to do that seems far too suffocating.
My personality and style was very different from his
We are great friends and have a great time together. We have many common interests. Yet, my approach is very different. My father is very organised, very deliberate and very logical in his approach. My approach is more experimental, more chaotic, and more people oriented. No approach is wrong or right, but somehow even at that age I sensed that these two approaches were like oil and water. To make them mix would require huge maturity on my part, and great patience on my father’s part.
I wanted to work with a team of smart people
Maybe this was not 100% crystal clear in my head at that time, but I know I felt it. In my father’s business he was the most intelligent, the most educated and the most innovative person on the team. Which is great. But the gap between him and the second smartest was huge! And bulk of the people working were junior managers and labourers. I felt the need to work with more intellectual and globally exposed people. Don't judge me. It’s not that I looked down on them. I respect people. It’s just that I needed intellectual stimulation.
I did not want to take instructions from my father!
While I respect him, love him, and believe his understanding and experience is more than sound, it’s still difficult to take instructions from one’s own father. There is always some emotional baggage in any close relationship, especially parent-child. And the late teens to early twenties are a hormonal roller coaster for most of us. We wear our emotions on our sleeves. I could take a tough reprimand from my teacher, or a boss, but not from my father! It’s only now at this stage in life that Im able to really ask my father for guidance, and really really value it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. None of these were his fault. These were just factors of my own limited perception. I'm sure they were all surmountable. But, perception can be more real than reality.
Do I regret not have joined up with my father. At times, yes. I know we could have been a great team, and built a great business. But I also don't regret it, for I have found a purpose and a calling of my own.
Are there some things that family businesses can do to bring in the next generation smoothly, without losing the entrepreneurial spirit and the value systems of the family? Sure, there are. There are many examples. I have been doing some research on this. If you have some insights, please do share!
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