Second Generation Entrepreneurs in Family Business Face New Challenges

by Marci Syms, Syms Corporation
The greatest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history will occur in this country over the next decade. An estimated $10 trillion is expected to change hands, and much of his wealth will be managed by the second generation entrepreneurs in the form of stock ownership. What this means for he almost 13 million family controlled businesses remains to be seen. But one thing is sure – second generation entrepreneurs will hold the economy of this country in their hands for many years into the new millennium.

The world facing second generation entrepreneurs is more complicated than the one in which our parents had success. Technology, competition, and workforces are ever changing in today’s business environment and make up some of the most difficult challenges for “new” entrepreneurs. Couple these issues with the fact that the founder may still be actively involved and the job of running a family business by the second generation becomes monumental.

I have worked in my father’s, Sy Syms, business for nearly 20 years and I have learned a lot in that time. As President and Chief Operating Office since 1983 with my father as Chairman, I can offer six important ways to achieve success as a second generation entrepreneur.

  1. Create your own fate. You must take risks when appropriate and follow through with diligent work. In my first years with the company, I wanted to open two stores on the same date in a new market. Another manager within the company, however, advocated opening just one store in another new market. My father wisely set up a competition. If I found two viable locations in my market, they would celebrate a double-grand opening. If the other manager found a more viable location in his market, we would celebrate a single grand opening. I took the risk to promote, plan and implement my idea. Not only did I win, I achieved my goal and gained new respect among the company’s top brass.
  2. Never stop learning. Be it in the marketplace, industry, or technological advances, if you stop learning, you will lose your competitive advantage and inevitably fail in your business. You must learn and adapt accordingly to keep up with the competition and customer demands.
  3. Motivate yourself. I support a simple statement made during historic peace talks, “Nothing just happens.” You have to work hard, keep your goals in mind and endure seemingly thankless tasks by motivating yourself through a variety of sources including inspirational tapes, newspaper clippings or supportive friends. The ultimate benefit to keeping yourself properly motivated is that you can motivate others to aim higher.
  4. Trust yourself. Many people will sit in a meeting and keep their ideas to themselves, dismissing them as silly, only to hear someone else generate a lively discussion by voicing the same ideas. You have to trust your instincts. Everyone should pay attention to their gut.
  5. Live your values. You have to conduct yourself in the same way you present yourself. Company mottoes and mission statements must be reinforced through actions. If not, associates, employees and customers will be skeptical of the overall organization and rely  exclusively on self-protection rather than developing a mutually beneficial relationship.
  6. Give something back. Entrepreneurs have a reputation for being self-centered, possibly because they are so focused. But when I look around, I see entrepreneurs’ names on business schools, research grants or even baseball fields. This will help a business too. By being involved in non-profit organizations, you can be nominated to corporate advisory boards. That kind of “giving back” creates a personal reputation that is indisputable.

These six guidelines will not solve all the complications and challenges that you will face as a second generation entrepreneur. But, if you use them appropriately, they will lay a strong foundation to make wise family and business choices.

I have come up with these points as a result of my experience. You may have additional points that reflect your experience. The important thing is that when you find those principals that survive the test of time, hold on to them and make them work for generations to come.