Five things I've learned from running a business with my daughters

Working with family can be a challenge – but the rewards are huge if you do it right.

By Michael Kelly Director, Glandore

WHEN I STARTED Glandore in 2001, I had no plans for any of my children to join me. Yet here I stand, 16 years later, running a business with my three daughters.

At the start, I had a vacant property, 33 Fitzwilliam Square, and spotted an opportunity: the market was in serious need for flexible office space.

Now, Glandore has four locations in Dublin and two in Belfast, with over 1500 members. As the business has grown, so too did my family’s input as my daughters joined the team along the way.

Like any family business, working with my daughters has been a challenge, but it’s also been hugely rewarding. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. It’s hard to see your children as adults

Once your child walks through the door on their first day as an employee, you must treat them as an adult – and like any other employee. Sit down and work out the ground rules, ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them and that everyone is treated with respect.

I was four years in business before my first daughter Fiona joined me in 2005. At the time, our largest location, Fitzwilliam Hall, was being fitted out. We opened a marketing suite to sell the office suites and Fiona cut her teeth pre-selling the space.

I had to put aside the fact she was my daughter and view her as any other employee. When we opened the doors a few months later she proved herself and had nearly half the space committed.

2. Segment your way to success

In order to succeed together it’s important to have separate areas of responsibility. This way each member of the family can have a good degree of autonomy while playing to their own strengths.

By the time we opened our first location in Belfast in 2007, my daughter Clare asked to join the business, and in 2011, on opening our restaurant, my youngest daughter Rebecca came on board.

We now run in three divisions, with each of us taking responsibility for certain areas: the Dublin offices, the Belfast offices and then Suesey Street and No.25 Private Dining.

3. Leave business for the office

Achieving balance between work and family life is difficult for many entrepreneurs, but it can be especially difficult for those in family businesses as the boundaries are blurred: You don’t just take work home with you – you take home to work with you.

When outside of work, focus on keeping the business out of the family. As far as possible, I try to leave business at the office and have a normal father-daughter relationship at home.

You would be surprised how talks of targets and trade can slip into discussion at the dinner table!

4. Be a mentor, not a parent

When things go wrong or issues arise (and they will – no business is perfect) you must think like a mentor and not like a parent. Don’t try and save the day or solve the problem. Help them to figure it out themselves and find a solution.

For us, this required huge effort from myself and my daughters, and we may have had the occasional slip along the way.

However the most rewarding part of creating a family business has been working alongside my daughters and seeing them grow and develop in confidence and competence.

5. Don’t shy away from succession

A sad statistic is that only 30% of family businesses last into a second generation. DCU’s Centre for Family Business carried out a report last year that found while succession can be a source of anxiety or uncertainty for family firms, often there was no documented plan to follow.

Although I didn’t initially plan for my children to join me, my three daughters are now directors and are very proud and passionate about the business.

We sat down last year and agreed a shareholder’s agreement which covers all the key points and makes provision for the running of the business when I have moved on.

Working in a family business creates a culture like no other. Everyone is shown the same respect and encouraged to support each other. We try and ensure that all staff are kept informed of changes and new developments as much as possible.

Basically, that means members of the team and members of the network are treated like one of the family.

Michael Kelly is the director of Glandore.

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