Purdue experts offer help when work and family combine

sealPurdue News

July 11, 1997

Purdue experts offer help when work and family combine

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- At the end of a difficult work day, many people go home and tell a sympathetic family member all about it. But what if the people you work with are your family, and problems on the job are partly due to them?

"Most issues that relate to families also relate to family-owned businesses," says Doug Sprenkle, Purdue University professor of child development and family studies. When problems in the workplace involve the family relationships of the participants, standard business advice is of limited value, he says.

Sprenkle and Purdue doctoral student Philip Mamalakis have teamed up to provide business consulting to family-owned businesses. "We look at family issues -- like communication, individuality, role expectations and unresolved conflict -- and see how they affect the profitability of the business," Sprenkle says.

Lest you call them family therapists, Sprenkle sets the record straight: "For this service, we don't do family therapy although we might recommend it. And we don't do financial consulting although we might recommend that, too.

"Our goal is to bring to light the different issues that come into play with your family and your business. Then together we can map out a direction of success for the business that meets your needs."

According to Mamalakis, 90 percent of U.S. businesses are family owned. Family-owned businesses are defined as those in which family members have majority ownership, and at least two family members work in the business.

Succession is one troubling issue for many family-owned businesses. "I know of an instance where a son stands to become very wealthy when he takes over his father's business," Mamalakis says. "However, even though it may be the opportunity of a lifetime, the son is ambivalent. The business doesn't 'light his fire' the way it did for his dad."

Even when heirs are ready and willing to take over the business, the founder may be reluctant. "Dealing with issues of succession causes people to face their own mortality," Sprenkle says. "And what about equality? Determining who will be in charge and how the other siblings will deal with the situation can be difficult."

Heir issues can also become gender issues. Daughters, once relegated to stay at home and leave the business to the boys, now expect a piece of the pie.

The problems of succession may be why many family-owned businesses fail. Mamalakis says 39 percent of family-owned businesses make it to the second generation, but only 15 percent make it to the third.

Another nuance of family-owned businesses is that participants have dual roles. "You could be a son and a co-worker. Most therapists believe that dual relationships are not good," Sprenkle says. "However, I think we need to get away from that notion."

Mamalakis agrees. "Look at the strengths of a family -- loyalty, closeness and trust -- these are great when they are also found in the workplace."

However, along with families can also come family secrets. "What if Uncle Homer is an alcoholic and the family members won't discuss it? That's dysfunctional and could also jeopardize the business," Sprenkle says.

Other issues Sprenkle and Mamalakis can discuss with families who own businesses are individual leadership development; how to be fair with workers who are family members and those who are not; and how to set business goals and expectations. They also can offer services such as organizing family councils and retreats and working with "co-preneurs" -- which are husband and wife teams.

Sprenkle has more than 30 years experience working with families including business owners. He grew up in a family that owned a chain of grocery stores. He is editor of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, the leading journal in the world on those topics, and he has written five books and more than 200 journal articles.

Mamalakis is a doctoral student in marriage and family therapy with an emphasis on family businesses. With a degree in engineering, he also has more than seven years experience working with organizations and families.

The consulting service is offered as an extension of Purdue's Marriage and Family Clinic. Initial interviews are free, with an hourly fee for additional services. Fees may be negotiated based on the size of the business. To contact Sprenkle and Mamalakis, phone (765) 494-2952 or (765) 474-3467.

Sources: Doug Sprenkle, (765) 494-2952
Philip Mamalakis, (765) 474-3467
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail, beth_forbes@purdue.edu
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, purduenews@purdue.edu

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