Making Your Family Business Into a Competitive Advantage
By Star Hughes-Gorup
I was a pretty good girl from the start. I got straight A’s in school. I went to bed early. I never went to a party or had a sip of alcohol. I refused to wear make-up until I was sixteen. My best friends were and still are my family, and there was no one else I would have rather spent time with growing up (that hasn’t changed either!)
Almost every teenager goes through some form of rebellion though – and mine was insisting that I would never, ever go to work in my family’s business. Not. A. Chance. All I can say is that even the best laid plans aren’t immune to a change of heart. That’s what happened to me, and I am wildly grateful for it.
Today I’m five years into my career in the male dominated commercial real estate industry, working for my parents’ business. Not only do I work with my dad, who is president, CEO and owner of Hughes Marino, but my mom is co-owner and chief operating officer of the company too. My younger brother, Tucker, is also more than a brother – he’s my colleague/counterpart in our Orange County and Los Angeles offices. My youngest brother, Bailey, still in college, also works at Hughes Marino’s LA office. And – wait for it – my husband is a Vice President in our Construction Management division. If you’d told the 13-year-old me that this is what I’d be doing at age 25, I wouldn’t have believed it.
But, the truth is, I couldn’t be happier.
Why was I averse to working with family? Part of it was the negative stigma surrounding children joining their parents in a family business. Part of it was the fear of mixing the two most important parts of my life, family and work. Instead, it turned out to be a big part of my happiness and fulfillment. Working with my family is not only a joy but an honor, and our focus on family and core values as a company is a big differentiator for our team’s happiness too.
I’d even go so far as to say that functional family businesses can have a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace. For example, I work very closely with my dad – we partner as a team on every client project. We go to meetings together, structure creative solutions for our clients together, and handle the nitty gritty of commercial real estate as one cohesive unit. Of course we have different roles, but combined we make a great team. That is only made possible by the enormous level of trust, respect, and concern we have for one another’s best interests. It helps that we know each other so well that we can anticipate the other’s next move.
I feel incredibly lucky to be in the situation that I am – and, yes, we consciously work to make our family business a successful one that others hope to emulate – not the kind that gives family businesses a bad rap. So, if you’re on the fence about joining your own family’s business, I think it’s worth considering. But I also have a couple of tips that might be helpful.
1. Appreciate your differences in personality.
As a woman, I naturally have a different personality than my dad. We have a lot of similarities – and it seems that I am only becoming more and more like him by the day – but there are plenty of differences. I’m a little bit more conservative and risk-averse. Sometimes I can be more sensitive. Most of the time I don’t manage stress as well as he does. But our differences are a big part of what makes us such a good team. It’s important to appreciate those differences and not be critical of them.
2. Do bring work home with you.
It’s not a bad thing to talk about work outside the office – in fact, I think it can be one of the most beneficial aspects of working with your family. As with anything, moderation is key, but after-hours work discussions are sometimes our best and most productive. That’s when we have the opportunity to talk about big picture strategy, what we could each be doing better, how the team as a whole could work better together, how we could deliver even more excellent service to our clients, etc. The day to day in-office conversations are important, but sometimes it’s the spontaneous, big picture discussions that can have the most long-term impact.
3. Plan to work hard, but also be prepared to let some things go.
The only downside I’ve experienced in working with the people I care about most is that I care that much more about the quality of work I am delivering. I am not striving for excellence just for myself – I do it to make my family proud and to help our business as a whole continue to grow and flourish. What I’ve begun to realize, and tell myself, is that any pressure I feel is self-imposed, and that all I can do is my best. As long as I know how hard I am working, my family knows how hard I am working, and we all know how much we care about each other, disappointment when things don’t go exactly how we want can be minimized.
I never dreamed I’d go into my family’s business. Now I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
Star Hughes-Gorup is a senior vice president and director at Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate firm with offices in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Seattle. Star is a key member of Hughes Marino’s San Diego brokerage team, where she specializes in tenant representation and building purchases. Star also makes frequent media appearances to speak on business issues from a millennial perspective, and blogs about life as a woman in a male-dominated industry at starhughesgorup.com. Contact Star at 1-844-NO-CONFLICT, or email@example.com.