With high schools and colleges out for the summer, young people are looking for short-term employment, enjoying vacations or participating as volunteers for numerous causes.

But anyone who owns a family business also can take advantage of summer break by putting their offspring to work for Mom and Dad, and that doesn’t mean a favored position in management for the fortunate son or daughter.

Instead, they should be going out with a construction crew, handling a cash register, dealing with paperwork or working at whatever entry-level position might apply, says Henry Hutcheson, president of Family Business USA (www.familybusinessusa.com), a consulting firm.

“They can come in as regular hires, get to know some of the employees and gain an understanding of the business,” says Hutcheson, who also is author of “Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business.”

That learn-the-operation-from-the-ground-up philosophy can help pave the way for the day when Mom and Dad want to retire and the next generation needs to take over.

“To start preparing your children for the top position, they need to spend some time at the bottom,” Hutcheson says.

Among the lessons the summer will provide the younger generation:

  • They’ll start to learn if the family business is the right fit. The children can begin to gauge how interested they might be in the business, and the parents can begin to evaluate whether they are cut out for it. Often, families carry the expectation that the next generation will take over, but that’s not always the best scenario. Sometimes both the business and the child will be better off if the child chooses another career.
  • They’ll develop a deeper understanding of the business. If they do eventually inherit the business, they will perform much better in their leadership role if they have been exposed to all aspects of the job. Summer break is a good time to initiate them without making it a sink-or-swim endeavor. “Many family business owners go astray by giving their kids more responsibility than they should have or by shielding them from hard work,” Hutcheson says. “You want to avoid setting them up for failure, but you also don’t want to encourage a sense of entitlement.”
  • They’ll profit from other viewpoints. Parents shouldn’t assume that only they can judge how well the son or daughter is doing during this summer exploration. “Find employees who can give you honest opinions on how well your children are working out,” Hutcheson says. “Your children likely act differently around you than around others, so a third-party assessment can help in evaluating their strengths and weaknesses.”

“One of the other lessons they will learn from this summer experience is the same one all teenagers and young adults learn when they take a summer job – the value of hard work,” Hutcheson says. “It’s easy sometimes to create a comfortable ride for children, but the most valuable dollar they’ll ever get is the one they earn on their own.”

About Henry Hutcheson

Henry Hutcheson is president of Family Business USA (www.familybusinessusa.com) and specializes in helping family and privately held businesses successfully manage transition, maintain harmony, and improve operations. He is a popular speaker at professional, university and corporate-sponsored events, and is author of “Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business.”

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