Beyond The Family Business

For one young professional, working outside the family business before taking the plunge is paying off.

Within GAWDA, there are a significant number of family businesses. Some estimates indicate family-owned businesses account for well over half of member companies. Working with parents, children and siblings can be a wonderful thing, but it can also foster conflicts. If allowed to find their way into the workplace, outside events and emotions can challenge the authority of family business leaders. And family members are not the only source of contention.

Brandt De Vries, junior VP at Welding Industrial Supply Company in Chicago, Illinois, writes in GAWDA’s Young Executives eDialogue, “In any company, being the son or daughter of the boss comes with a stigma. It is a preconceived notion that you have it easy—that you have a free pass.” There may be a reason for co-workers’ resentment: A 2007 survey of nearly 800 senior leaders of family-owned businesses revealed that two-thirds of family businesses have no established criteria, such as qualifications or related experience, that family members must possess before entering the business. The study, conducted by Oregon State University’s Austin Family Business Program, also found that 25 percent of family business leaders do not think the “next” generation has the competency to take over leadership of the business.

For the younger generation of family business members, working with conflict and resentment is not a foregone conclusion. Colleen Mahoney, marketing communications manager at Noble Gas Solutions in Albany, NY, and a contributor to GAWDA’s Young Executives eDialogue, prepared herself to join the family business by choosing not to join the family business—at first. Her first-person account below explores the thinking behind her decision and how it turned out.

My father, Dave Mahoney, president and CEO at Noble Gas Solutions, has always been a huge support in my life. He is my role model, an example of the sort of working professional whose success I want to mirror. But when he offered me a position in our family business, Noble Gas Solutions (then AWESCO), I was hesitant to move home.When I graduated from Fordham University in 2005, I knew that I had much to learn and lacked the experience necessary in order to attain the successful career in business that I wanted. To start, I had no knowledge of welding products or gases. Unlike many others, I had never worked in this industry before. I didn’t work for my father in high school or college and sought out part-time work elsewhere growing up.

For the first time in my life, I was going to be a full-time working professional. I was excited to embark on this journey, but I knew I wanted to stand on my own two feet. One thing I learned from my father was that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to with hard work and persistence. He was raised in a single parent home with limited funds and had to make his own way. He built his career from the ground up and proved himself to be a major star in the company, becoming president at only 30 years old. I felt deeply that I had to make my own way too. I wanted to truly earn my success in this industry and not just be known as Dave Mahoney’s daughter. I wanted to prove to my father, my colleagues and myself that I could do it alone.

My first opportunity in this industry came at the gracious hands of Jim Madison, president of Prest-O-Sales & Service in Long Island City, NY. Jim took a chance on me as a young, inexperienced saleswoman and offered me a position as specialty gas sales representative. To say that I was nervous is an understatement. At just 22 years of age, I was working for Jim, pounding the pavement as an amateur sales representative, and living on my own for the first time in my life—in New York City.

I came to realize early on that I had a lot to learn. I stumbled on sales calls, I made mistakes and, most importantly, I grew in numerous ways. Jim offered me the platform to grow as a sales rep within the industry, but apart from my father’s business. This time at Prest-O-Sales & Service for me professionally was invaluable.

After being in New York City for three years, I decided it was time to come back home to Albany, New York, and begin my career working in our family business. I am happy to be on the Noble Gas Solutions team and hope to continue my progression within our company. The opportunity to work outside of the family business offered me the chance to look at the industry in a different light, and I would highly recommend that any recent graduate follow the same path that has served me so well.

Colleen Mahoney’s decision to work at another distributor before joining her father’s company is one way to address the challenges that family business members face, but it is not the only. If you’re a family business member, what path did you take? What advice would you give to those entering their family’s business?

Gases and Welding Distributors Association