The family-owned company has been a staple of the business world since the “Ogg & Sons Rock Demolition Company” started up in prehistoric days. Today, over 35 percent of all corporations are owned by families, including Wal-Mart, Ford, NASCAR, Lowes and Ikea. Yet perhaps the most transparent business model is that of Tony Bennett. At 85, Tony Bennett is still performing between 100 and 200 concert dates per year. He has publicly said that he has no intentions of retiring, and that as a singer, he’s “never worked a day in his life”. Bennett’s vocal quality and stamina are legendary, but his phenomenal success over the last few decades is due to his son, Danny, who became Bennett’s manager after years of barely-adequate representation. Danny had ideas about revitalizing Tony’s career, including marketing him to a younger audience (the “MTV Unplugged” special was famously, Danny’s idea). Now, Tony has several family members who work with him, including his son Dae, a recording engineer who, until recently, ran Bennett Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Tony’s daughter Antonia is a fine singer in her own right, and she is Tony’s opening act at concerts, and Tony’s granddaughter takes all the photos for Tony’s albums.
Obviously, Tony Bennett feels very comfortable having his family involved in his career. But what about family members who work in a “normal” corporation? One thing on which many experts agree is that the incoming family member should have experience with other companies before joining the family business. Not only does this “legitimize” the hiring of a family member, it also gives the family member more substantial experience for their resume, especially if things don’t work out with the family company. Further, the family member with a vision for the family business may be able to use their other experiences to enrich and revitalize the family business. As an example, Danny Bennett does more than manage his father’s career; he is president of RPM Productions, which also manages such diverse artists as Elvis Costello and Jamiroquai.
Another important step when hiring a family member is establishing specific roles for them, and their rules of conduct when representing the company. Every employee deserves to know what is expected of them, and family employees are no different. While there is a certain amount of “everyone chips in where they’re needed”—especially in smaller family businesses, a family employee should know what to expect on a daily basis, and the assurance that they’re not to get the tasks that no one else wants to do. Also, it’s important to emphasize training with a family employee; some companies have ignored it altogether when bringing in family, but there is little more important for such employees so that they can see the importance of the job they will do. It’s vitally important that a family member follows the same work rules and conduct as any other employee. Seeing a family member “play the kin card” and slough off on the job can be very detrimental to the company morale, and obviously affect production. The employee manual should be followed to the letter, and it may be necessary to add a few rules for family members. No matter what level of position a family member holds—entry level to upper management—the rules must remain; in the third-generation family business of NASCAR, the CEO must still adhere to the suggestions of the board of directors.
In the case of the Bennett family, it is clear that Tony is the reason for the company’s existence, and that he is the reason audiences come to concerts and buy recordings. As talented as his family may be, they must know that “this can’t last forever”—one day Tony will stop singing publicly and the family will be forced to find a new way to earn their living. This is a good thing for any family employee to remember. The family business must not be seen as a stopping point. Either the family member will find a new position at another company, or they will find a way to revitalize the family business in the future. In both cases, the family employee can benefit from the mentoring and structure of a family business, but they must always show that they achieved their success through their own efforts. – Thomas Cunniffe