Succeeding as an SOB

I am highly qualified to speak out on being an SOB. In fact, there are an inordinate number of us SOBs in the marine industry. I,of course, refer to Sons of Bosses, though there may be a few of the other definition around, too. The common ma-and-pa-type businesses spawned by our industry are the kind we like to have offspring pick up and run with to even greater success. Encouraging us further is the fact that dealerships don’t have a ready market in most cases. Many of the rewards are non-monetary, too.
I have studied the situation from both sides — as a son with Dad for a boss, and as boss with a son employed. As part of my study, many years ago I attended a seminar for members of the father-son business team (father-daughter hadn’t caught on yet). The instructor told a story from an earlier seminar to illustrate the multiplicity of variables in the situation: “Before that seminar, I was prone to blow my own horn and tell the class of the variety of situations I had handled successfully as a consultant on family businesses. At this one, a distinguished older gentleman immediately hopped up and challenged me: ‘I’ve got a new one for you!’
“I answered depreciatingly along the lines of, ‘I’ve really seen a lot of situations, but I’m always open to new ground.’ He proceeded to tell his story: “‘My business has grown over the years, and I welcomed my son into it long ago. I’m now past 80 and my son is getting really good at running things in a lot of areas. Everything was great until the SOB told me he wants to retire just because he is nearing 65. What do I do now?’” The expert admitted to us that he was dumbfounded for the moment.
The relationships between a father and his son (or daughter, and I suspect for mother-daughter or mother-son) are very complex. Frequently even more challenging are the relationships the heir apparent has with other non-family employees. There, we don’t have the built-in cushion of the loving family relationship.
The way I see it, there are four advantages to being the SOB. First, your parent/boss loves you – even if he doesn’t always act like it; second, your fellow employees assume, until you prove otherwise, that you have inherited at least a measure of his abilities and general smarts; third, you have heard all about, and perhaps worked in the business since an early age (my first job was cleaning the restrooms in the family company for $.25 an hour in 1950); and finally, you are normally privy to a lot of semi-confidential information voiced around the supper table. It can come in handy.
There are also four disadvantages. First, your parent is likely to be harder on you than the average employee. He is probably spending good money on fine schools, and you are the result of what he considers a superb gene pool; second, he is rightfully aware that your fellow employees have a natural resentment at your “fast track” in the company. This must be overcome, and he is determined that you do so; third, you will automatically get the crappy jobs your dad doesn’t want to ask a regular employee to do. So what. He probably did them himself before you came along. That’s part of entrepreneurship; and finally, being groomed to take over what your father sees as the finest business opportunity the world has to offer, you may wistfully look at your peers and their greater range of choice. It’s a decision you have to make. Looking at my situation as I got out of school, I perceived the advantages in my family business situation outweighing the difficulties. If you don’t see yours that way, go try something else early. In spite of your misgivings, your parents will still love you. You can generally come back, too, as long as the business is still there.
I can’t say enough about the need to “outwork” your fellow employees. It’s nice if you are smarter than they are, too, but it’s not mandatory. Don’t take credit when it’s not due you. In fact, be very careful about taking credit at all. As the SOB, others tend to give you credit for accomplishments anyway. You will also be blamed for a lot — usually by not-so-smart fellow employees. Bite your lip and keep your mouth shut unless your dad asks in private. The smart employees are going to help you and hope you remember them later on. Do so. They are your real business friends.
If you work harder (and longer) than the rest, plus maintain a “Mr. Nice Guy” profile, you will soon be acknowledged as a junior leader by your fellows — a “go-to guy.” More importantly, you will be proudly accepted as a junior partner and eventual heir by your dad.
Dad (or Mom), the main thing you need to do is let your offspring know that he (or she) is appreciated for his effort and accomplishment. It’s a great opportunity for them, but it’s probably not as great as you perceive. One way to make them feel special is to get them involved with you in trade organizations. MRAA if you are a retailer, NMMA if you are a manufacturer, ABBRA if you are a boatyard, AMI if you are a marina. The chance to rub elbows with others moving along the business inheritance process is invaluable.
Did I do all of these thing right early on — or later? Let’s just say it’s a lot easier to be smart when you’re looking back on a business career than looking forward.

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