The pros and cons of working in a family business

By Stanley Ong See 20 June, 2017
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The first time I heard the title “COO” used other than the conventional position for someone manning the day-to-day operations, my jaw literally dropped. The person I was being introduced to was definitely a few years younger than me, but how can he already be a COO when I was still an associate engineer in an Information Technology (IT) company. 

Turns out, it’s not the Chief Operating Officer acronym that I was used to but the rather the somewhat amusing tag of “Child of Owner” that my new acquaintance said with pride. As offsprings of Chinoy entrepreneurs, it is natural for us to be exposed to the family business even at young age. There are certainly advantages to learning the ropes quickly, but there are downsides to this type of environment as well.

Pro: Your parents or grandparents are your bosses.

This is good especially is you want to learn the family’s secret for success (strategy, recipe, etc.), maximize the existing network of suppliers and customers, and getting unfiltered, real-world management lessons and tips from dad, mom, angkong, or amah.

Con: Your parents or grandparents are your bosses.

The line separating employer-employee and parent-child or grandparent-child is blurred whenever there are heated discussions, arguments, or misunderstandings. Imagine a dinner table where one or two persons are not talking because of late deliveries, lost profits or opportunities, or other problems.

Pro: Unlimited vacation leaves

One thing that I love about my current arrangement of working for the family business is that I am not restrained from taking long vacations, nor do I need to fill-up tedious VL forms and ask approval from my manager, then from Human Resources, etc. A quick mention to my Dad and Mom already suffice.

Con: Long hours

Forget about the usual Monday to Friday 9AM-5PM work schedule. Most family businesses are fueled by passion and long on patience and hard work, so 40-hour work weeks simply won’t do the trick. Also, aside from the salary I get, there’s no such thing as overtime (OT) pay, rice allowances, etc.

Pro: There’s practically no morning or evening traffic going to/from work

With the usual setup of having your place of work at the ground floor and home at the second and third floors, working in a family business means you don’t have to get stuck in traffic like most employees. Going down a flight of stairs instantly transports me from my bedroom to the work arena.

Con: No title, but all the roles and responsibilities

My “title” on paper is General Manager but the truth is that I am doing or has done pretty much every role that can be filled in our trading company: cashier, driver, sales agent, treasury (prepares the checks for payables), canvaser, sorter, etc. Despite the numerous tasks and responsibilities, the silver lining is that, like me, most Chinoys are exposed to all parts of the business.

Pro: Job security

The best thing about working for your family is the 100% job security. They won’t say no to a helping hand; some families even groom and expect their offsprings to eventually take over.

Pro: Home-cooked food, anytime is family time

Two of the best benefit I got when I switched from working in a corporation to my family’s business is I ate better and fresher (compared to eating out, or bringing packed lunch to work) and got to spend more time with my parents and Amah. 

Con: The rooms in your house also double as storage rooms

Space is specious, but so are deliveries, supplies, and inventory. I have never lived in a house that served only one function; a house without a storage or inventory room for stocks and cartoned items is simply an alien concept for me.

Pro: Early concept of work

I began my IT career at the age of 21 but learned the concept and value of work at an even younger age. Mopping the floor, fetching my amah’s money bag, properly writing and issuing checks, and doing bank transactions are just some of the tasks that I was exposed to and did from a young age. 

Con: No summers off

Not having a province outside Metro Manila meant that summer breaks (even semestral breaks) were spent helping out in the family business.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 13:09

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  • Corporate Life or Family Business?

    Life after college is a big leap to the unknown. Most of us are not sure if we are ready to enter the jungle. We don’t know if we are going to survive the “real world”.

    While some people are preparing themselves to venture into the corporate world, there are some who are already blessed to have their own family business as another option for their careers. However, during the last two years of your college life, you might start to wonder if that track is the ONLY option. You will have career fairs after career fairs. Companies offering you interviews and internships to get a glimpse of their world. And then you wonder, “What else is out there for me to explore?”

    Every graduating student is faced with three possible career paths – work for the corporate world, take over your family business, or start your own business. In this article, we will tackle the struggles young millennials face with the first two choices.

    Coming from a Chinoy family and hearing it also from my friends, one of the biggest dilemma these Chinoys who have the option to work for the corporate world or to take over their business is whether to climb their way up the corporate ladder or follow their parents’ wishes and join their family business. And should they wish to build their own careers in the corporate world, how will they tell their parents?

    We asked 15 Chinoys about their experiences, struggles, and opinions to get a glimpse of what the they are dealing with and what do their parents think about it.

    Do your parents both prefer that you work for the corporate world or take over the family business? What is their reason behind their preference?

    While our survey received mix responses, preference towards working for the family business still dominated the results.

    “You will earn more with less or at least the same efforts. Why would you waste your effort to learn from a 9 to 5 job? The real way to learn how to handle a business is to be in one.”

    For parents who prefer that their children should skip the applications and work immediately for the family business, they believe that years of training would have been wasted if their children will not take over what they have intentionally built to be passed on from one generation to the other. Some parents have been preparing their children even while they were still in grade school. They require them to spend x number of hours during their vacation to help, even in the most trivial things, in their office. They believe that you are your own boss and it will be such a waste of effort and time to crawl your way up through the corporate ladder and weave your way out of corporate politics. Why would you waste your effort to learn from a 9 to 5 job? The real way to learn how to handle a business is to actually be in one. Since they are handing their business down to you anyway, why go elsewhere?

    What is even more interesting is that some parents, who wants that their children should work for the corporate environment first, believes that they should gather all the resources and network that they can get from the corporate environment to enhance their skill set before they take over the family business themselves. One Chinoy pointed out that sometimes age, gender and the number of siblings will also matter as girls or the youngest siblings are not normally expected to take over as compared to their elder siblings. Some Chinoy parents do believe that the corporate environment is an effective way to broaden your network and learn the discipline of having to answer to someone other than you parents. You will be forced to wake up early and beat the EDSA traffic just to get to work. You will go through meetings after meetings trying to hone your presentation and communication skills.

    Heated debates between you and your parents are sometimes inevitable as you each explain your reasons for choosing your desired career path. We will all agree that while nothing is stopping us from doing what we want, it would still be nice to get their support on our chosen career path.

    Why do you disagree with your parents’ choice? What is your point of view?

    “[It doesn’t mean that] everything is already laid down for us, then we have to take it. In the end, it’s still our life to live and our choice to make.”

    Throughout their childhood, they have seen how their parents have worked to provide for them. For those who have their own family business, they have seen the day to day routine of their parents as they (parents) build their own legacy from the product of their hard work. Having seen all that, young Chinoys know how fulfilling it is to build something they can call “mine”. They want to make a name for themselves and move out of their parent’s shadow. It doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what their parents have done or are willing to give for them. It’s their way of showing them that they can also make a name for themselves and produce a product from their own hard work. They have spent most of their lives immersed in their family business and by joining in a corporate work environment, it is their only chance to try new experiences and see the bigger picture.

    Another hesitation is knowing if they are the right “fit” for the industry their family business is in.  While these young Chinoys are exposed to their parent’s businesses at an early age, it doesn’t really mean that they will in turn take on the same industry and the same career path as their parents. They think that there might be other industries that they are more interested in or where they can excel in given their current skill sets. Some join their company business immediately fresh out of college only to realize a year later that their experiences are still raw. However, there are also young Chinoys who opts to go directly to the family business if it offers a better chance for them than working in a corporate world.

    What are the Pros and Cons for either working for your family or moving your way up the corporate ladder?

    We released an article earlier about The Pros and Cons of Working in a Family Business. The article highlighted the upside and the downside of being the “COO” or the Child of Owner. Working for the family business can really help you save, but if you are the kind of person who is strict with separating work from your personal life, then it may not be the path for you. Work should be left at work, but it’s hard to maintain that demarcation line if you live with your parents. You talk about work when you eat breakfast, when you drive with your parents to work, or even at dinner.

    Of course, corporate life has its own selling points as well. Working for the corporate environment gives you the sense of discipline to be accountable for your actions as it does not only affect you, but the whole organization that you are dealing with. There are different stakeholders at play. You are trained to work in teams and build your social, oral and presentation skills. Every day is a new challenge. Your social circle will expand as you meet new friends that you can relate with. You share stories during your lunch breaks. You go out every now and then to de-stress.

    If your work requires you to travel around, then you will have the opportunity to go to different countries and interact with your counterparts across the globe. Benefits such as rice, clothing and medical allowances, vacation leaves, retirement and insurance plans, and bonuses are all provided for you when you sign above that dotted line. You are also entitled to a fix salary every month. The stability is visible.

    If you work hard enough, you may be considered for a promotion. The thrill of pushing yourself to work harder each day to build your corporate career, the joy of getting promotions after promotions, and the friendly competition that you have with your teammates are what makes the corporate life more interesting than working for your family business, wherein you are already the boss.

    While corporate life will give you a lot of benefits, there are some cons that our young Chinoys have pointed out. Rules are rules. Each company will have its own code of conduct that their employees must abide with. Some believe that these rules are too rigid. Dress codes must be followed. You can’t just entire your office wearing your gym wear or your slippers. It is a corporate environment after all. You have no flexibility with your time. You will soon realize how precious your weekends and holidays are. You will barely have the time to go out and do the things that you want to do. You are bounded by the 8am to 5pm work hours, sometimes even more, and by the time you get out, some establishments are also closing. No more hoping for “#WalangPasok” when the typhoon comes, because business as usual is expected.

    Do you have any advice for those who have yet to experience what you have experienced?

    “No matter what option you choose, there will be pros and cons. It's up to you to be hardworking and strategic”

    What makes this decision difficult is how overwhelming everything seems to be. You may want everything to be planned and are already considering all your potential mistakes.

    But at this stage, most of your mistakes are precious learning lessons. You can always try things out and reroute accordingly. If you decide to work for the family business and eventually realize that it isn't for you, you can switch courses. In the same way, if you start up your own business or join a corporation and realize it isn't for you, you can also switch courses. The decisions we make are impactful, but they aren't final and absolute.

    And no matter what path you choose to take, remember to invest in yourself. If you invest in yourself and grow in discipline, skills, and connections, then you will be an asset in any environment you choose.

    How about you? Do you have your own personal stories to share? Let us know in the comments!

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