When I was in my late thirties, I experienced a last day of work unlike most. Before the first 15 minutes of the morning were gone, I was punched in the mouth, my shirt was torn and the CEO had his hands around my neck.
That CEO was my uncle; and that day marked the end of a strange trip through the world of our family business. In an instant I lost my job, my family and my identity.
However bad it ended for me, our family business started with good intentions. Our parents thought it would be great to provide financially for future generations and keep the family close. As kids, we were excited to attach ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, something transcendent and exclusive.
Our environment made it easy for us to believe the road ahead would be smooth. We learned about life in an artificial environment of nice vacations, housekeepers to clean up after us, and the best things money could buy without learning anything about the value of a dollar.
As adults, we were surprised when the road got bumpy, then became dangerous, and finally ended at the edge of a cliff. As adults inside the family business, it seemed we were valued most by how well we could "toe" the family line.
A sibling, who regularly wore a t-shirts that read, “Life is Hard, Pray Harder,” was finally thrown out of the business for decades of embezzling, my father passed away, and a crueler surviving family member became the head of the company. Most of my siblings were fired or left. Those who stayed were the most compliant and the most financially dependent, attaching themselves to elaborate mythologies to prove they were their own men and women.
Fortunately, I lost all opportunity to lose myself in self-delusions after the violent end of my time at our family business. After my last day, I took a few weeks of soul searching, and declined an offer to return to the family business. Instead, I decided to accept a job making a little more than minimum wage, painting cabinets on track homes before the new buyers moved in.
After making a reputation for quality work, a superintendent asked me if I wanted to start my own business and come on as a vendor for his community. I bought some study materials for my license and crammed for a few months.
After passing the exam, I received my license and became a vendor for a large home building operation. We soon branched off into drywall and construction work and added several more areas and builders.
On one job, I met a restoration contractor who was on a large carrier network and who told me the carrier he was working for was looking for new vendors. We applied, interviewed and eventually joined this network.
Some 10,000 plus claims, an equal number on satisfied customers and numerous recognitions later, we proudly serve the restoration industry in our area doing emergency service, construction and have consulted on emergency service claims in the several hundred-thousand-dollar range and multi-million-dollar construction projects.
You better believe today that I would never wish, in a million years, to return to that very broken family business. When I look back on the experience in my family business, I am sad about the pain that I experienced while inside it, but I am grateful for the chance to know that I could succeed outside the protected, but sometimes hostile and unhealthy, family business environment.
In my opinion, sometimes it’s best, albeit difficult, to pluck certain people from within a family business and let them take their own path. In the words of Robert Frost, let them take “the one less traveled by, and that (will) make all the difference."
A Note from the Editor:
Within the last four issues of R&R (December, January, February, & March), Les Cunningham and Jake Avila shared their insights and research on what it takes to have Healthy Family Relationships within a family business. Sometimes, however, family businesses fail. When that happens, it’s up to those within to find a new path to success without the family identity. I hope Patrick’s story will be an inspiration to restorers who find themselves following that path.