Accounting with the family: Can work and family life co-exist?
There are many benefits to working with your family but left untended, the roles at home will mirror roles in the office. Practice owner John Froggett reflects on how he’s balanced the two.
When I started my practice 21 years ago from the kitchen table with one client, I had no idea that the business would have grown to such an extent that out of a team of nine, seven of them are from my own family.
I realise that I am in a fortunate position, with children who wanted to get involved in the business. However, it’s not as easy as it may sound, passing the business from one generation to another and there have been some hiccups along the way.
When my middle daughter asked to join the firm it all started fine. However, over the three years, she was with me, a combination of my parental behaviour and her feeling that this was not the right career after all meant she left the business in 2013.
Family roles at home can mirror roles in the office
Not long after Emily left, my eldest son David showed interest. Still reeling from the fallout from my daughter leaving, I had turned to meditation with her parting shot “you need to get yourself sorted out” ringing in my ears.
I believe this work-life balance personal development has made all the difference. Understandably wary about employing offspring, I suggested that David would need to be psychometrically tested to check for suitability to the profession. Thankfully he was spot on. Perhaps encouraged by his older brothers’ decision, my youngest Adam, then 16, asked to drop out of A-Levels to join the practice too. He too had the perfect profile. Amusingly, I do not.
Both boys took to it with gusto. However, the historical parental relationship has been an issue. And I can see how this is difficult for any family business. Left untended, the roles you have at home transfer to the office.
If you are a dominant parent (as I am not proud to admit I was) it’s all too easy for everyone to continue in that vein. It wasn’t until my marriage broke down, my wife and I had separated (but she was and still is working in the office) and I met someone else, that I was able to realise that I needed to change.
That was 18 months ago. It’s not been easy. Sole trader decision making does not translate to the more consultative approach I have needed to develop.
There was a tendency to re-enact parent/child communication styles and I now realise that adult-to-adult is the only way this can work. If I ever wanted to work fewer hours I would need to work out a plan of action for the transfer of skills and knowledge but even more importantly, delegate rather than abdicate authority and demonstrate a clear change of command to the others in the office.
My eldest had to take over from me, from the office point of view as well as the clients. And that was not going to happen overnight.
My new wife is a business coach and mentor and set about coaching David and Adam in assertiveness and leadership, which I have to say, had an immediate impact. I’d never really heard Adam say much in the office, but suddenly he had an opinion I was very happy to hear. It also transformed David, as he realised that I genuinely wanted him to take over the business.
Subsequent sessions then developed into team training sessions on company values, branding, marketing and sales, and David really embraced the opportunities to explore technological solutions as well as taking control of the cash flow and creating a new five year business plan.
If people come to me now with strategic questions I have to be strict and refer them to David and not allow anyone to play one ‘parent’ off against the other.
David is now the MD, has my office and is responsible for the day to day running of the business. I now work three days a week and it seems to be going in the right direction.
Make non-family members part of the family too!
Our family values of commitment, compassion and a shared vision relate to our team, our clients and the wider community ‘family’ which we support.
Aware of the potential conflicts which nepotism could generate, we actively include our two non-family members in everything we do. And a chat to our apprentice’s mother recently revealed that she comes home saying she feels part of the family. I imagine offering to adopt her played a part in that.