Dear Aunty B,
I came into the family business not because I wanted to but at the suggestion (pleading) of my old man. I was making a lot more money in a global consulting firm where I was on the partnership track.
I have now been here three years and the past two as CEO. I feel very frustrated. My father who founded the business has been assigned the role of chairman and moved to an office at the far end of the building. But he won’t go. He is very assertive and still likes to boss me around. I have made it quite clear that he should take off for a round the world trip with my mother but he says the business needs him. How do I get him to go?
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Dear Fed up,
He is chairman. That means he runs the board, determines the direction and priority and lays out the agenda for meetings. Your role of course as CEO is to run the company and be responsible for its performance. Of course, if he left you would have another chairman to report to as you certainly would not want to move to a position where you ran the whole thing.
The problem you have is your chairman is your father. The role of the chairman is to hire and fire the CEO, so as you know, your chairman is essentially your boss.
And the role of boss can easily get confused with the father-son dynamic.
There are a few ways out of this. Men his age – I expect he is in his 60s – are not very flexible and are used to getting their way. As a result they have not developed a lot of social intelligence or empathy. They are often stuck in their ways.
So the approach to him should be along the lines of what is professional. A good chairman doesn’t tell the CEO what to do. She or he acts as a mentor and sounding board. They suggest and advise, not tell and demand. You need to start having a series of long talks with your father. It would be good to have an outsider there who specialises in business – and family – to mediate. Your aim is to develop a “contract” between the two of you about the role you both play in the company.
Make sure that you go to the meeting with specific examples about “when he is interfering in” but keep the conversation on a very professional level and try and keep any childhood issues out of it.
Also make sure you are not being equally as inflexible. The business is a family business. Your father did start the company. He does have the right to stay there if he wants. But he also needs to listen to what you want more closely. Ultimately he wants you there so he has to concede some ground as well.
Your Aunty B
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