Last month I got great seats to a Santana concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center (formerly known as the Garden State Arts Center) in Holmdel, NJ. I worked security there the summer after my freshman year of college (too many years ago) and when Carlos Santana and band played the summer of 1985 (THAT many years ago…) I got to sit a few rows from the stage as Carlos warmed up (amazing!) and experienced the entire show next to the sound board (still very close to the stage). I can’t believe I got paid for that job – would have done it for free!
The concert last month was amazing. Even at age 68 Carlos Santana and the band were jamming and the venue was buzzing. People were standing and dancing. Then Carlos talked about how proud he is of his son, Salvador, and unexpectedly brought him on stage to play some of his own new music. Salvador’s music is more of a rap style, much different from his father’s classic/Latin-flavored rock. He played keyboards and sang/rapped four songs or so – and the energy left the building; everyone just sat quietly. Salvador also plugged his new album, his website and told how to buy his music at iTunes. My wife and I felt like we had Carlos’ son stuffed down our throats, we resented the sales pitch/commercial and having him take so much time away from his father’s group – the concert we paid a lot for.
While it is normal for parents to feel great pride for their children, this should not get in the way of smart, well thought-out decisions about the best role, if any, a child should play in a family enterprise. When a child is placed into any role, especially a role in the “limelight” in a family business, everyone will be watching and carefully assessing.
Fair or not, people watch with great attention as a family member moves into positions of increasing responsibility; they want some assurance they have earned it. A poor decision can have lasting negative effects on the family enterprise, and can put the child into a pressure situation causing more harm than good to them as well – not to mention the effects on customers/”fans”. My experience might have been different if the show was sold as “Santana & Son – a Classic Rock and Modern Rap/Hip-Hop Fusion.” I could have chosen whether to go or not, but that choice was taken from me.
In family businesses, the senior generation often will not make any room for the rising generation and new ideas and ways of doing things for next- generation customers and modern trends. It is crucially important to have a good process that involves assessing the interest of the next generation – and if they are interested, developing them over time and assessing their ability to manage and, eventually, lead. At the same time senior generation family members need to step back and give appropriate opportunities to the rising generation making sure they only move up if they are set to succeed.
What is the lesson?
Enterprising Families: Take the time to balance giving appropriate opportunities to the rising generation with making sure they are well-prepared and earn their spot. Timing and supportive development along with realistic assessment and open communication are necessary.
Advisors to Enterprising Families: As I frequently point out, you are on the front lines and the trust your clients put in you when it comes to technical advice should be rewarded with helpful suggestions around managing the common pitfalls of blending family and business. If you are uncomfortable bringing up these “softer-side” issues, check out my article about how to approach the conversation published in the Family Firm Institute’s “Pracitioner.”