Problem—Our oldest son is finishing college and will be married.  He has worked with us and has a good understanding of our business.  He has a good relationship with our father.  How do we ensure that he joins us after his graduation and marriage?

Answer—It is difficult to predict family businesses but here are several things you need to consider.

How large a town or city do you live in? What was your son’s and his bride’s major in college?  What importance does it have that they join you at this point in their life?

If you live in a community that is smaller than 150,000 people and his major is business and her major is nursing or teaching, there is a reasonable possibility that they will be able to join you.  If you live in a larger community, there will likely be many more opportunities for them to find employment fitting just about any majors they may have studied.

Your answer as to why it is important to you that they join you, comes from your own mind and may not be shared by them.  Have you talked with them about this possibility before?  If yes, you may have an inkling of that possibility.   If not, you need to have them visit, so your entire family can listen to and discuss their ideas about that possibility.

In either case do NOT tell them

How important their joining you

Is to you before the discussion is held

If you did or do tell them, it will be difficult for them to be totally honest with you about their thinking.  They will try to please you if they know what you want.  If they do not know, you have a better chance of hearing their honest thinking about joining you.

But there is an additional issue

What if they have not considered the alternative possibility that they do not join you?  Do you even know what those possibilities might be?  And do you understand all they might miss if they do not think about the possibility of NOT joining you right after their graduation?

Let us consider some of them

First for your son.  Has he thought about working for someone else?  What might he learn there that he needs to learn to better work with you?  Can he make important contacts to build future demand for your business’s products?  Will he find other products that might be good to add to your offerings?  How about meeting someone who could provide funding that might assist your business grow?   Would it be a good opportunity to independently think about the future of your business and his place in it?

Second for your future daughter in law.  You son may have told her about you.  What opportunity has she had to explore beyond her home and college about different people and different worlds?  What does she know about her place in the world?  Could it be other than in your town?  How does she expand beyond teaching and nursing If they are not her career interests?  What vision do her parents have about her future and her relationship with them?  Or you?

Yes, being a part of a family business can limit your ability to think beyond it to envision the value of other worlds.

But it need not be limiting.

You now have an opportunity to think beyond what you have and are.  Your question could be something other than “how do we ensure he joins us?” to be

How do we ensure that our son

Does the best thing for him and

Our new member of the family?

Indeed, asking that question might just provide the insurance you need to see your son and your new daughter-in-law join you after they graduate.  Or any time in your future when it would be right for all of you to have them join you.  That is truly the best alternative your family business might give you.