Family Business

How to tell your parents you don’t want to run the family business

November 10, 2012 

“I don’t want to be President!” exclaimed the son to his father running the family business. “I never have, and I have told you before that I never will. Why can’t you hear me?”

Family businesses typically begin as a means for someone to make a living. The founders work hard, grow the business, and live off the earnings. This is how my family’s business began.

And when they founded it, they were not thinking about the exit strategy. Surely the only thing on their mind was for the business to survive and to make some money. What to do with it when the time comes is really an afterthought. As such, family business owners become very emotionally attached to the business. It can be like raising a child. Just thinking about passing it on can be difficult.

There are options, of course. Businesses can be liquidated for the assets. If it has no prospects and is losing money, perhaps this is the best option. It would be very disappointing to be sure. It can be sold. There are business brokers who can find a buyer interested in taking over your business. Most likely a competitor, but possibly a good customer could be a good candidate. And businesses can also be sold to a current or group of current employees. This is a nice alternative as the owner will know the buyer and how they would continue the business. The difficulty can be they may not have the funds desired to take the business and need to purchase the business over time.

Don’t share passion?

However, for the family business owner, and especially the family business founder, the most emotionally satisfying option is to pass the business on to a family member, particularly one who has been working in the business.

There is no greater joy for a parent to spend time in their lives sharing a common passion for something with their kids. Given that work makes up such a large percentage of our lives, this is a big area in which to do this. Moreover, by having one’s children take over the business keeps the owner’s dreams alive for the future of the business.

But what happens if the son or daughter simply does not want to take over the business? This will certainly be a let down to the parent, and as such, they may try to disregard this in an effort to keep their hope alive.

The best way to communicate a difference of desire with another person is to a) understand their point of view and b) clearly articulate that you understand their point of view. (At which point you are free to completely disagree.) At the same time you will need to explain your reasons.

True to yourself

The best way to break it to your parents that you do not want to take over the business is to have open communication from the beginning that you are not fully sure that you want to take over the business. Talk about how you do want to work for the business and would like to be paid and promoted according to the contribution you are making to the company. You do have some interest in potentially taking over the business one day, but at this point you are undecided. And once a year sit down and have this discussion. Be open about your concerns, whatever they may be. Your parents will clearly have arguments refuting your concerns.

The awkward part, or rather the part that will require a steel backbone, is to be true to yourself by not letting your parents push you into something you truly do not want to do. This will result in a lifetime of unhappiness for you and your parents.

The final effort in convincing your parents that you are serious about not wanting to take on the business is to be active and diligent in assisting with the alternatives. Lay out the options and put forth effort in trying to realize one of those options. This is the best way to say “I am your child, I love you, and I will help you with whatever I can.” But at the same time, help them understand that you want to pursue your own dreams, whatever they may be.

Henry Hutcheson is a nationally recognized family business speaker, author and consultant in Raleigh. He can be reached at

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