Economy

Dad, want a job?

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Gen X has found a valuable resource in its oldies, who are often rich, retired and bored stiff.

Gen X hires baby boomer parents

Nick Caple’s father drives him crazy. “He is old school, conservative and doesn’t get it,” he says. But seven years ago Caple, 36, offered his father a job in his fast-growing mortgage broking business in Albert Park, Choice Capital. “The staff are young so we have to sit dad at the other end of the office, out of ear shot of all the swearing,” he says.

But Caple says the advantages of employing his 60-year old father, Graeme, outweigh the frustrations. “I can trust him implicitly, the books are run in a squeaky clean fashion and he won’t let me hide anything. If I am not around, the staff are conscious that he is.”

The trend for young entrepreneurs to employ their mother or father in their business is growing fast, says Philippa Taylor, chief executive of Family Business Australia. “Young people are not interested in fitting into corporates. They are more interested in being entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses.”

The well-off baby boomer parents pushed into professions by their post-war parents, have retired early or been retrenched. Many are fit, well off and bored stiff. While they lack the stomach for risk, they have experience, capital and (often) financial nous in spades.

Taylor says parents with financial, accounting, project and analytical skills are the most likely to be employed by their children. Often they start by providing a little seed money, then advice, before finally taking the corner office.

Forecaster Phil Ruthven, chairman of IBISWorld, says this trend will grow. He points out that the baby boomers often have good relationships with their children, being less autocratic than the post war generation, now in their 70s. “But if you think that Generation X are entrepreneurial, wait until the Generation Y gets into the workforce. They are really entrepreneurial and could well employ their parents and grandparents.”

Many of the parents, who have worked for large corporates can bring corporate governance, process and systems to the fast-growing companies. Entrepreneur Justin Simpson, 31, says his father, Marcel Simpson, worked for 35 years as an insurance executive before he quit at 55.

By the time he was 57, he was working for Justin’s software services company, PCT Filer. First Marcel injected seed money, then began looking after accounts, finances and development of the data base. “He is loyal, I trust him implicit ally,” Justin says. “And it’s been good for our relationship. Men bond by doing things rather than talk about stuff, and now we talk and email every day.”

At first his father was paid based on the orders received by the company. Now he is on salary. “On the positive side I look forward to him sharing the rewards, so his retirement is more comfortable. On the negative side my mother gets left out and I worry that the business might die and the time he has spent would be wasted. But he came with open eyes and I never promised him success.”

Disputes with parents can be very confronting. Caple says his father has a corporate approach to business, which causes friction. “He does not have one ounce of entrepreneurial blood in him and he doesn’t understand the risks we take. So we have our moments.”

Caple says after a major disagreement, there is no reconciliation. “We just move on, which I don’t think is healthy but we don’t have a very good communicative relationship. But at the end of the day he respects it is my show. And he does make me think twice before I make a risky decision.”

Dena Blackman, founder of home services Dial An Angel, employed her mother, Freda Isles, for 14 years. “You have to learn how to handle things tactfully and with commonsense. No one ever tells my mother what to do, so you make suggestions.”

As the parent ages, it can be difficult for the entrepreneur to deal with a fall in performance. “Most people can work until 70 or 73 at top efficiency, but at 75 they have earned the right to sit back a little,” says Blackman. “That has to be handled carefully and you have got to respect their personal dignity.”

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