I was recently flying with my wife and we were discussing how hard the flight attendants worked and how rude some passengers on flights can be. I worked as a waiter in college and grad school which has much of the stress of being a flight attendant with much more space to move around easily in order to get the job done and also to escape rude people! The kitchen can be a safe haven (unless the chef is in a rage and then the nasty patron can be safer…)

I believe the world would be a better place if everyone had to wait tables or be a flight attendant during their lives. It can be incredibly satisfying, for example when you get to meet interesting people. I met Jeff Goldblum while I was waiting tables in Sea Bright, NJ which led to a bit part in his movie Fathers and Sons (I’m one of the guys carrying away a dead dolphin during the opening scene). It is also very humbling and even humiliating at times (one very drunk and wealthy owner of a restaurant tipped me by throwing twenty-dollar bills on the floor at my feet (I walked away and his appalled wife picked them up, politely apologized and graciously asked me to accept them). Overall, waiting tables gives one a chance to meet and interact with all kinds of people from all walks of life. For me – it was an overwhelmingly positive experience despite the occasional (and character building) disrespect.

Back to flight attendants and family business…

My wife and I were empathizing with the flight attendants and the challenges they face and I was reminded of the Korean Air flight last year on which Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of Korean Air’s chief executive and chairman, was accused of verbally and physically assaulting a flight attendant for serving nuts in a bag and not on a plate. She also insisted the flight return to the gate at JFK airport in New York and fired the attendant who was “offloaded”. Korean Air is part of the Hanjin Group, one of South Korea’s top family conglomerates.

Ms. Cho was seen on TV after landing in South Korea, taken off the plane in handcuffs apologizing. She resigned as head of the airline’s flight service and all of her posts at Hanjin. Too little, too late. The attendant was reinstated (some justice).

The family business connection, which is hopefully obvious at this point, has to do with instilling the next generation with healthy character and an appreciation for those who have worked hard to build the family business, many of who are non-family employees. After this incident there were many discussions in the media about whether or not family firms favor children of the owners and, when they clearly do, about the potential negative effects on the culture of the family firm.

In my work with successful families involved in operating businesses and with wealthy families I have seen both extremes. When parents take the time to thoughtfully raise children under the challenging circumstances of abundance and privilege, children can become incredibly thoughtful and sensitive and use the family resources for higher purposes. These kids can be raised to appreciate what family members before them have created and accumulated and can contribute in ways that add value (and not only monetary value) to the family, the enterprise and society.

On the other hand, I’ve seen next generation family members given too much unearned power, responsibility and wealth and they become spoiled and toxic.

What is the Lesson?

Enterprising Families: The stereotype of spoiled children of affluence is not a forgone conclusion. Do some reading on the subject and know that there are professionals out there with specific expertise who can help. Please keep in mind that the younger you start, the more powerful your efforts will be.

Advisors to Enterprising Families: Families are expecting more and more of the “soft side” skills from their advisors. You do not need to be an expert in raising children amidst wealth, how families can own and manage together effectively and harmoniously, or how to teach parents to discuss wealth and money with their children. You CAN learn to gently and appropriately open the door to these conversations in ways your family clients will appreciate. You can develop collaborative relationships with professionals who can take it from there and your family clients will appreciate the extra effort and the priceless value of family harmony.