update: should I leave my family business?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer trying to decide whether to leave her family business? Here’s the update.

A lot has changed, and a lot has not. Ultimately I’m still with the family construction business and I suspect I will be for the rest of my career.

Two things really hit me after my letter was published. The first being that I didn’t really spell out what I like about my job, which you called me out on. So I gave that some thought. On good days, I love my job because I get to problem solve, either internally or on a project. Often I’m working to understand processes, figure out next steps, facilitate communication and find solutions, and every day is different and full of potential. I also love my company because we’re the type of employer I think all employers should strive to be. We here, yes to make money, but also to allow our employees to have a career that supports them in the unfolding of their lives. Just the other day one of our employees thanked me for this being a wonderful place to work, that has supported her though real health issues, and she said she was glad I was starting to take over the reins as the next generation because she knew I would continue to retain that culture of family. Then just last night I attended an awards ceremony where one of our projects was recognized for the historical restoration of a building that was falling apart. This award winning building is in my neighborhood, it’s a place where my family goes to hang out, where I now take my kids for the winter farmers market. It’s a building that will be part of my larger community for the next 50+ years, and my company did that work. I feel real, deep satisfaction some days. I really like and respect both my father and my brother, who I work with daily. None of that came through in my letter, and it was really helpful to catalog all that good stuff because afterwards the hard stuff I was focusing and wrote you about suddenly loomed less large.

I also have to say thanks to all of the advice that came from the commentariat that really helped me look at my situation differently, specifically I was really taken aback by their accusations of sexism towards my father. I found myself pretty insulted on his behalf, because he is the person who has steadfastly been my champion. We’ve had blunt conversations about the dearth of women in construction and why, and he sees what this industry is like and doesn’t think it should be like this. He wants capable people in places of leadership, including capable women. He believes I have the skills and ability do it. We just haven’t been able to figure out how to get me there/get him to let go.

Ultimately the comments made me realize I was doing a lot of this to myself. I was taking on the HR stuff, I was volunteering to pick up the 401K administration, order the laptops, fix the website, move into the financial side of the company. Long story short, I had to ask if I was being the sexist one by taking on all the administrative tasks that needed doing, when they didn’t feel like actual moves upwards. I personally didn’t need to own any of it, I just kept taking it on because someone needed to. Maybe it was internalized sexism or maybe it was just being bad at delegating, but I finally saw it thanks to you all.

So we’ve since hired a new Office Manager/Director of HR (at my behest) and OMG, yes! This person is worth their weight in gold, and now does, enjoys doing, and does well all of that administrative stuff I had taken on. The new PM who I mentioned in the letter has since started, and I’m training him which mean he’s learning to PM the way I want him to (and has been a great addition to our team). And we’ve also since brought on a Vice President of Marketing and Design, who is potentially going to be our interim CEO instead of me taking the reins directly from my father. This makes a lot of sense in many ways, not least because he has more experience in the industry and with working as an executive, but also because him taking responsibilities from my father is just less fraught.

So, now I’m back to being mostly a Project Manager, which I enjoy and am good at, with flavors of being a manager. I’m still a leader here, I’m on the Board of Directors and get to weigh in on decisions and what direction we head, people seek out my advice and ask me to address issues, and while the immediacy of taking over my father’s role is gone, it’s still very much the long term plan (though the plan is more fuzzy than it was. It’s on the to-do list, don’t worry). In the near term, I need to focus on landing projects so we can pay these new hires that are doing the stuff I don’t want to, which seems like a good trade-off to me.

Overall I’m really proud of the moves I had this company make over the last year, and specifically the last couple months- the hires, the new projects, the changes in roles, and the leadership/accountability structures I’ve put in place. I appreciate the perspective Alison and the commenters gave me; it helped me figure out a way through to the other side during a rough time. Cheers and thanks so much!

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. Momma Bear*

    I like this update in part because it shows you took stock of everything and figured out what needed to happen to not only improve your own situation, but the company as a whole. I wish you and your company many more years of success.

    1. Marthooh*

      We get a lot of updates on the lines of “Yeah, turns out that place was even worse than I thought!” Hearing that the company is actually much much better than it first appeared is so refreshing. Thank you for writing back, OP!

    2. allathian*

      Yes, I like it too, and for much the same reasons. It’s also refreshing to see an update where the advice inspired the LW to take closer look at what was going on, and to take some action to improve things that didn’t involve looking for work somewhere else.

  2. Roscoe*

    “I was really taken aback by their accusations of sexism towards my father. I found myself pretty insulted on his behalf, because he is the person who has steadfastly been my champion. We’ve had blunt conversations about the dearth of women in construction and why, and he sees what this industry is like and doesn’t think it should be like this. He wants capable people in places of leadership, including capable women.”

    Hopefully this speaks to a lot of people on why they shouldn’t just assume anytime a woman is writing in with a conflict with a man, it has to be sexism. Sure, it can be, but those allegations shouldn’t always be the default, which on this site it seems to be. I understand that people are reading these things and bringing their own experiences, but maybe people should check their biases and not just jump to that conclusion immediately.

    1. Sandi*

      The sexism isn’t about conflict. It is very typical for women in male-dominated workplaces to be asked to do the admin (“Can you take notes at this meeting?” “Do you know where to find the Smith file?”) and I think it was reasonable to point out in this situation. Complaining about the father isn’t as valid, but pointing out the sexism in the work tasks is fair. I also agree with the OP that this can happen because women are willing to volunteer for this work, which is why I was told at the start of my career by many women in tech to actively avoid social committees, taking meeting notes, and any tasks that are a lot of work with no recognition.

      I also agree that sexism is often a default thought by many people on this site, but I have the impression that there are more women than usual who read this blog, and we encounter a lot of sexism so it’s hard not to have that as a bias when it is so pervasive. It almost feels like telling a fish not to be biased by all the water around them.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        pointing out the sexism in the work tasks is fair.


        Also, you don’t have to make a conscious connection between “this person is a woman” and “this person is the one who should do X task” for it to be sexist. Letting your daughter do all this stuff because she tends to take it over instead of actively noticing that she has other things she should be doing and hiring a person to take this over from her is at least within shouting distance of passively sexist. It’s hard to picture a son in a construction company not getting redirected from “indoor” or office tasks and replaced with an actual office manager pretty quickly.

      2. mairona*

        Another woman in tech here and that advice is spot on. I’ve got an answer for just about every request for “woman duties”: Taking notes? You probably don’t want to assign that to me because I have ADHD so I’m not the most reliable person to take organized and thorough notes. Office baking? Only if you want something burnt or accidentally missing a key ingredient because I’m terrible at it! Cleaning up? Oh, gosh, I already took care of any mess I made and now I have to get back to this assignment because deadlines! Filing? I’m pretty sure I already mentioned my ADHD, but if you want me to overthink where you want that before I put it in the wrong place, sure, I’m all over it!

        It took a bit of work (and a touch of feigned cluelessness to traditionally “feminine” things) to set those boundaries early on but these days, I’m mostly left in peace to code to my heart’s content! True story: Years ago at a previous job, I *did* agree to take notes for a meeting once but they were so far from helpful (unintentionally! I actually did try, I just kept getting distracted!) that no one ever asked me to do it again. The ADHD part is also a true story, and at that time, I was undiagnosed so I didn’t have meds to help me out yet!

        1. Stevie*

          So, a question about this approach. Hopefully this isn’t branching too far from the main topic (and please don’t take this as any sort of criticism whatsoever), but this bri gs up something I think about a lot in my early-mid career life.

          I frequently default to being self-deprecating when talking, though I try to avoid doing this when it comes to my actual work-related capabilities. Still…another similarly-aged female colleague who is amazing and incredibly competent also does this, and sometimes we sound like an echo chamber of apologies, and not the smart and capable people we are.

          I guess my question is, would the “feigned cluelessness” (great way to describe it) run the risk of hurting us in other areas of our work life, as young-ish women?

          1. Wisteria*

            It’s also known as strategic incompetence, and men use it all the time to get out of boring tasks that won’t get them promoted. As with all things, men and women get different responses to the same behaviors.

            I recommend really emphasizing the strategic part of strategic incompetence. One thing I have learned is that if you put yourself down, so will other people. So while it would be nice if the wider world would be more accepting of female-coded ways of talking, for any given individual, you really do have to weigh the cost of maintaining your self-deprecating patterns. I recommend cutting out the echo chamber of apologies. Find other ways to be strategically incompetent.

          2. Hillary*

            Feigned cluelessness is one strategy and it works well for some people – there are others too. You can make a joke you did it last time and suggest a dude. You can build alliances to address it collectively. I usually pretend to not see the subtle requests and refuse most of the explicit requests. I also have private conversations with my more modern & socially-aware male peers about the subtext so they can address it with their peers.

            I do the self-deprecation thing too, and I’ve tried to redirect it. I make jokes about things I say often or about rules I enforce, but I’m trying not to undermine myself in the process. I’m trying to stop apologizing for things.

          3. JSPA*

            “I have some stellar skills, but that’s one one of them.”

            “With all my training, you’d think that would be something simple, but trust me, you don’t want me on that particular job.”

            “I’m lefthanded and the kid of two doctors. Even I can’t read my handwriting.”

            “Avoiding Carpal tunnel.”

            “hard pass on that, sorry.”

            “No can do.”

            “Not if you need usable notes, no.”

            “not currently possible.”

            “I need to be intellectually engaged for this meeting. I can’t think creatively and take notes at the same time.” (If they say it’s easy, then hey, they just volunteered.)

          4. mairona*

            That’s why I specified using this on traditionally “feminine” things! I’m legit pretty terrible at stereotypical “girly” things so it’s not really a stretch lol. But I also make sure to highlight my strengths whenever possible, too. I’m good at coding and problem-solving, and while I do frequently battle imposter syndrome, a little therapy and a lot of practice has helped me reduce a lot of self-deprecating language. I’ve also found faking confidence until I feel it for real helps too. “Feigning cluelessness” should only be used on stuff outside your job that you REALLY don’t want to be saddled with forever, like note-taking, office baking, party planning, etc – stuff that may happen at work on the social level that usually gets heaped onto female employees but has nothing to do with your actual job (DO NOT feign cluelessness on your job duties if you want to keep said job!) The only caveat would be that you should still be willing to pitch in as long as it’s not a “let’s have only the women in the office organize this Thing” sort of situation.

    2. Aquawoman*

      Given the pervasiveness of sexism, I think raising sexism as a possibility is completely reasonable. Also, maybe not dismiss women’s lived experience as “bias.”

    3. bamcheeks*

      Why? In what way did the assumptions that it was sexism harm OP or her father? There was no negative outcome here that men need to be protected from.

    4. NeonFireworks*

      In an industry like construction, it’s overwhelmingly likely that women aren’t being treated fairly, so watching for that isn’t unreasonable.

    5. YA Author*

      This situation didn’t look like sexism because a “woman is writing in with a conflict with a man.” It looked like sexism because it was an extremely common sexist dynamic.

      The commenters pointed it out, LW acknowledged the issue, and she realized that *she* had the power to change her situation for the better. The dynamic existed and was real. Her father/boss is not ready/willing to give LW the responsibilities she is working toward, and it sounds like he was happy for her to take over administrative tasks. But she realized the admin trap she was falling into (ordering new laptops is not a direct route to the CEO’s office). And she stepped back from feeling shoehorned into that role.

    6. Rav*

      It might not be lupus, but we would be doing a good job if we didn’t consider it.

      Luckily, the LW did her part.

    7. Dasein9*

      Sexism is a default, both in our wider culture and in the construction industry.
      Of course it’s an element in OP’s workplace!
      OP doesn’t work in some magical universe separate from the reality we all experience.

      1. Just J.*

        Also an engineer, also a woman, but directly in construction. Sexism is baked in. I have 30 years of witnessing it. It something that has to be stood up to daily.

    8. Artemesia*

      Yeah. Just because a person is not openly condescending to a woman does mean sexism is not at play. Would a son and heir be held back as the OP was? Would there need to be someone else elevated to interim CEO if a son were the heir apparent. Sexism like racism is woven into our society and does not need to be aggressive and blatant to affect careers.

    9. the Viking Diva*

      Because sexism is entrenched in society (or racism or ableism or homophobia or … ), everyone absorbs it to some extent. Internalized sexism is a thing. Implicit bias towards one’s group is a thing.

    10. quill*

      Most sexism, internalized or not, is unconscious. That’s why we’ve gotta evaluate “is this sexist?” even when the OP’s dad earnestly wants to advance his daughter’s career or women in his industry in general. The sexist patterns that we absorb from media and prior experience are very easy to fall into accidentally.

      1. Violet Rose*

        THIS. I thought of a better way to explain sexism (/racism/ableism/etc.) to my friends who’ve never been on the receiving end of it: sexism isn’t the reason, it’s a percent modifier. The *reason* the boss always asks Sharon to take notes is because she has good attention to detail and writes clearly, but the boss is *more likely* to jump to Sharon over her equally-good make colleagues because we’re wired for pattern recognition, and “women take notes” is a pattern that’s very easy to reinforce.

    11. JSPA*

      Structural -isms affect everyone. It’s not always useful to jump to blaming people for “the water they swim in,” but sexism does play a role in whether or not they get to feel comfortable with the status quo. Both OP and OP’s dad intended to be anti-sexist. Both OP and OP’s dad ended up playing into some default assumptions about who picks up the non-construction, “coded female” work. But only OP felt miserable, as a result; OP’s dad, due to that “shared water of sexism,” didn’t have to feel any discomfort (nor any need to jump in on those tasks).

      That doesn’t make him a “sexist jerk,” but it does add up to, he was just a bit too comfortable with a sexist division of labor. At least until our feedback–via OP–pointed out the structural problem.

      Super glad they then did the right thing. But there’s still yet one more guy at the top of the power structure, and one more male PM roughly at OP’s level, and one more person (gender unstated) brought in to do the classically female tasks, probably entirely outside of the power structure / chain of promotion. I’m glad the intolerable add-ons have been taken off of the OP. But in terms of sexism in the construction industry, this feels like a “not moving backwards” or a “moving forward from negative numbers back to zero” rather than a “moving into positive territory” resolution.

      Retrofitting and reusing old architecture for public benefit is enough of an ecological and historical and social benefit that I can see how it would be completely reasonable to make the choice to stay, regardless. But if it’s still fraught for power to pass from Dad to Daughter, then the underlying issues have not been dealt with.

      1. Astor*

        Right? Like, look, my dad has spent his whole life pushing up against gender roles. His parents household was very segregated by gender, and he “rebelled” by doing stereotypically female things while playing high-level football into his twenties. He was always really supportive of me doing whatever I wanted. He volunteered at multiple levels of coaching for his favourite sport until he was managing the sport for our whole area (basically 6 different centres), and loudly championed things like new equipment for the girls’ teams even before the boys. He took me to play pick-up games with his friends and their sons, even though none of them brought their daughters, and he never made me feel like I was “just a girl”.

        And then I watched as my younger brother grew up and I saw how much more support he got. Like, literally at 9 he’d have brand new equipment for things that I, at 17, needed replaced but was somehow never the right time. It didn’t bother me until I saw the difference in those ways. And then saw it again in other places, like literally which computer tasks they ask him vs me when I was more educated. Some of the differences are just normal older/younger kid, but some were simultaneous and gendered.

        I’d struggle if someone called my dad sexist, because he really is better than most dads and then tries really hard to counter the things he recognizes on top, too. My friends (and teammates, and classmates, etc) have literally commented on it my whole life because he’s great. But we live in a sexist society and we can’t be separate from the effects.

        1. JSPA*

          Yes. Sexism isn’t only being told that you “can’t do X” because of your gender.

          Often, it’s feeling not merely thankful but completely beholden (and obliged to make it up in other ways) when your family is 50-70% supportive of something for you…even though it’s completely unquestioned that they’re 100% all in on the same (or an equivalent) thing for your opposite sex sibling. Whether that something is sports, education, travel, training courses, music, helping with transit to any of the above–or just uninterrupted time to think, read and write, as opposed to “help fold the laundry.”

          Of course it’s light years beyond being barred from school on the basis of gender, or married off at age 12! But just because it’s a muted variant of the issue, doesn’t mean it’s not part of the same continuum.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “But in terms of sexism in the construction industry, this feels like a “not moving backwards” or a “moving forward from negative numbers back to zero” rather than a “moving into positive territory” resolution.”

        As a woman who has heard too many times, “Bob will do this until you get up to speed”, my heart sunk. I am hanging on the idea that we are supposed to take OP at their word. So, OP stood up for herself. OP is carrying the expectation that this is a moving and evolving situation and that mindset is an asset. OP has already demonstrated the ability to question what she sees going on, I have to assume this part of her personality and approach to life. And OP has opened this discussion with her father, which means she can go back in on this type of discussion later if need be. It can be an on-going conversation.

        In the 70s I decided to help my father with his truck. I washed it, waxed it, vacuumed it, detailed it and I rotated the tires. It took me eight hours. He paid me a dollar. I was sputtering so bad that I said to him, “From here on I will help you because you are my dad and I love you. But never, ever again will you pay me to do something because your pay rates are wildly unfair and actually insulting.”
        I walked away, never letting him get in a word edgewise.

        We can continue loving our parents while we still see more running in the storyline than they ever, ever will see. I wish you the best OP, it sounds like you have a bigger picture perspective going on and I know first hand that will serve you well.

    12. Cat Lady*

      I think the tricky thing about this topic is that when people talk about workplace sexism, detractors on the topic often assume that we’re saying that people are being intentionally sexist and awful to women. And there are absolutely circumstances where that happens (the manager who called his female employees “sluts” on the LW’s first day comes to mind).

      But unfortunately, you don’t need to have sexism in your heart to do or say sexist things. You can be a man who is vocally against sexism and still treat your female employees unfairly. It’s great that OP’s dad is aware of gender bias in his industry! However, allowing all the administrative tasks in the office to fall onto female employees means that he might not be aware of how it’s manifesting in his own workplace. It’s still a sexist workplace dynamic, regardless of whether it was intentional or not.

      Anyway. I’m glad that OP and her dad were able to address this problem. It sounds like her dad is willing to listen to criticism, which is commendable. But none of that means that the original commenters were wrong to point out the sexism.

    13. Tali*

      Come on dude, this commentariat is just as quick to jump to racism and you don’t seem to have a problem with that.

      Plus sexism is still at play here–in OP herself, and in the results of her dad’s treatment in letting her take all the admin work instead of work that will advance her career. So sounds like people were right on the money.

    14. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OP read the comments as accusations, and probably perceives our comments as such because she loves her father and can’t bear the thought that we might think him sexist. I personally wrote: “I do wonder whether Dad just can’t let go of his baby… and whether he thinks a girl just can’t cut it as CEO of a construction company.
      (I know this is a grown woman and all, I’m calling her a girl looking through her father’s eyes as it were)”
      which is certainly not an accusation, I was wondering out loud, after reading between the lines. OP’s answer more than satisfies me, I’m delighted to know that I was wrong on that count.

  3. Cricket*

    Congratulations, OP! It’s great to hear how you’ve made changes to make your job so much better! Wishing you the best.

  4. tiny*

    Although just leaving is the only solution for a lot of people unhappy in their jobs, it’s really cool to hear someone with the power to make changes step up and improve the situation!

  5. Observer*

    I was taking on the HR stuff, I was volunteering to pick up the 401K administration, order the laptops, fix the website, move into the financial side of the company. Long story short, I had to ask if I was being the sexist one by taking on all the administrative tasks that needed doing, when they didn’t feel like actual moves upwards. I personally didn’t need to own any of it, I just kept taking it on because someone needed to. Maybe it was internalized sexism or maybe it was just being bad at delegating, but I finally saw it thanks to you all.

    LOL. It sounds like you are very much your father’s daughter ;)

    Good for you that you figured out how to let go, though. It’s good that you did it, because when you do step up, having that understanding will valuable. But since you seem to be better and customer and PM side of things, it makes a lot of sense for that to be your focus.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I will say though, I think that understanding will in the long run be beneficial if the OP does end up taking over the company. They understand what is involved in those tasks – so if they need to hire again in the future they know what a successful candidate looks like from a skill perspective. That’s vital to have in any family business, regardless of it’s size.

      1. Observer*

        I agree. It’s good that the OP did these tasks for a while. But it was well past time for her to let go.

  6. animaniactoo*

    We just haven’t been able to figure out how to get me there/get him to let go.

    I would just like to say that this is something that pretty much all small businesses – and especially family businesses – struggle with. Specifically the prior owner/CEO/president letting go.

    I would suggest having a couple of areas where he leans back and allows you to be in the lead where he is in a position much like the one you occupy – you are informed, you have a voice, but are not the lead. Part of the struggle to let go is the idea of not knowing what is going on. If he can know what’s going on and be an available resource in case of need, while not necessarily being in charge in charge, one aspect of the company at a time, that may help ease the transition for him.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      When the time comes, it might help in easing the transition for him to think about ways to take his expertise into the community through volunteer work. There was a lot of advice in that direction recently for a retiring nurse, and a retiring owner of a successful construction company ought to have some very in-demand skills.

  7. Student*

    Glad you’re happy with your current job, but if there’s no actual written agreement to hand the company over to you, then it’s not going to happen.

    Maybe you need another heart to heart with your father to find out why he doesn’t trust you with the CEO role, and get an actionable list of things you need to accomplish/change to change his mind. Maybe he is not comfortable goving you that direct of feedback and y’all need a “leadership coach” or something to mediate. At least then you could look at your father’s expectations on paper and think about whether you’ll be able to actually meet them, instead of this state of permanent vagueness.

    Otherwise, interim CEO guy will likely become the permanent CEO after he builds support among the rest of the Board.

    1. Willow*

      Yes, there needs to be a plan and timeline for making you permanent CEO. There’s too much risk that it will never happen otherwise.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        It sounds like the handover plan is the next item up to be worked on – at the end of the update the OP did say next up was the succession planning. Being fair – there has been a lot of building up of the company in just six months, building a solid plan for who takes over may take a bit of time as well (especially for it to be done correctly).

    2. Artemesia*

      This. Does anyone thing a son would have been forced to give up the path to CEO by having someone else appointed to that role instead of having the daughter heir apparent pushed aside? I hope this is a path to CEO for the OP but it doesn’t look like it.

      1. Eden*

        OP specifically addresses this and says it’s about her father having trouble letting go in general and not about sexism, can we take her at her word? Just because sexism exists doesn’t mean that it’s always the deciding factor in all situations.

          1. Wisteria*

            Sometimes it takes an outside party to point out a pattern, which is part of why advice columns like yours exist in the first place. LW is in the middle of a sexist pattern. She’s defensive bc her father is not a sexist. She might be the expert on her father, but she’s not an expert on how women and allies fall into sexist patterns and what it takes to get out of those patterns. It’s fair to point out the sexism in play and pretty naïve to deny it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s valid and important to point out those patterns and raise those questions. It is not okay to authoritatively tell the LW she is wrong about something she has far more information on than we do. Those are the rules of this site.

      2. Your Local Password Resetter*

        Actually yes. It’s quite common for parents to have a lower proffessional opinion of their kids, for both genders. Subconcious sexism is probably contributing in some way or another, but it doesn’t seem like the main reason.

      3. Myrin*

        And yet nothing in either the original letter or this update suggests that the son/brother has ever even been considered as the successor.

    3. LizWings*

      I agree- this delay/extra step to CEO role concerns me. LW worked at the company starting at age 14, has 7 years outside experience, and 10 years experience wearing many hats at the company, and LW is _still_ not qualified to run it? How can anyone be more qualified? Did the father even have this much experience when he started the company? I’m possibly overreaching, but I sense an ingrained gender-based lack of confidence, when in fact it sounds like LW would already be a better CEO than the father, let alone bringing in an outsider first with no clear succession timeline in place. LW, own your education and experience and knowledge! Who could run this company better than you? If the transition is sticky with your father (and isn’t it with every family business?) you could hire a Family Business consultant/therapist to help manage expectations, relationships, and transition. (Example: The Family Business Program at The Family Institute, outside of Chicago)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Sounded to me like our LW didn’t WANT it yet — like she decided she didn’t want to do the admin/HR/IT roles either.
        She currently is really truly enjoying being the PM and managing major construction projects.
        More power to her I say.

      2. Jules the First*

        Construction is complicated. I’ve worked in the industry for 17 years, built several buildings (from the first conversations with the potential client through design and construction to opening, post-completion client care, etc), and worked through all the different parts of the process and office functions – HR, office management, PR, PM, accounts, finance, legal, business development, site supervision, design. Do I have the skills to run a construction business as CEO? Yes. Am I ready to? No.

        Construction takes a long time to learn and an even longer time to do well. With the average building taking 3-5 years to build, someone with a 15-year career has really only done 4 or 5 projects in enough detail to truly understand the process. If you’re the one who starts the business, the learning curve is more forgiving because clients know they are hiring someone with limited experience. If you are taking on an established company, you need to be more experienced because clients have higher expectations and a small wobble in quality as the second generation takes over can kill the business quite quickly if one or two influential clients happen to mention that quality has slipped.

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      I don’t disagree that whatever the transition plan is, it needs to be in writing, but the transition needs to be with the ownership of the company, not who gets to be CEO. Unless this is a large company, I’m guessing that the company is a S corp, and it would be interesting to know if the shareholders are OP/Dad/Brother, if 100% of the shares held by her dad, or if there is some other arrangement. Because if Dad has 100% of the shares, is OP’s brother cool with OP running the family business? Will the shares be divided equally between OP and her brother? Are there other siblings who will own part of the company? Will OP be CEO and not own any shares?

      Because if the OP has at least 50% of the shares in the family business, she will have way more influence over the board than the CEO. But if she has no ownership stake in the family business, she just has a job and a career in project management. The transition plan needs to be over who owns the company, not who gets to be CEO.

      1. I can never decide on a lasting name*

        SO well put, you nail it Public Sector Manager! Who gets to be CEO is a bit of a red herring

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I love the specifics here. There are books and other materials out there for succession planning- this would be an exit plan for your father and a plan for who will succeed him. This will involve talking to an attorney about the company and your dad talking to a financial planner for his own finances plus talking with other people.
        I do understand dad not knowing how this would all work, however he can build an outline to make a list of points he wants to address and advisors can help him build that list.

  8. Sparkles McFadden*

    Glad you wrote in LW. I’ve thought about your letter from time to time…about how some of us take responsibility for everything because we want to see things done well (or just see things that need to get done actually get done). Sometimes, it’s hard to see that the best thing to do is to delegate. It took me awhile to teach myself that “making sure that things gets done” doesn’t mean that I, personally, have to do those things. I imagine that’s much more difficult to do when it’s a family business!

    All the best for the future of your business!

  9. Phil*

    I don’t know how I missed the original letter because it hits home. I was to be the fourth generation to run my family’s company. And, as you might be able to tell from the subjunctive, I didn’t. Our succession plan was very simple. My grandfather and great grandfather died in the office. Period. I was put to work “learning the business”-construction-as soon as I could walk. As you might guess I didn’t go into the family business and my father ran it into the ground with a series of bad decisions. It turned out he didn’t like to work. How nobody had noticed that in 60 odd years I’ll never know. I knew it. He spent most of the day at his clubs.
    Any way, in the end I did something totally different for my life. Many years later my mother blurted out that she blamed me for the company’s failure because I wasn’t there. Hard to fault-or understand-that logic.

    1. Observer*

      Many years later my mother blurted out that she blamed me for the company’s failure because I wasn’t there. Hard to fault-or understand-that logic.

      It’s actually very easy to see her logic. And she may even be correct. After all, it’s possible that if you HAD stayed in the business, you might have managed to make it work.

      Where your mother went wrong, imo, was in BLAMING you for your decision. Yes, you *might* have saved the business. But at what cost? It’s neither reasonable or fair to expect a child to take on that burden.

    2. blackcat lady*

      Spouse was a CPA in large national firm. He has seen numerous firms started by Generation #1, grow with Generation #2 and be run into the ground with Generation #3. No idea why unless the third generation was way too entitled.

      The OP needs to have a firm (written) plan for future ownership if that is what she wants.

      1. Beth*

        The proverb is “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”; there’s a Chinese version aas well. Underlying it is the idea that the generation that builds the business is able to train the next generation to be successors, but the second generation, whose lives did not include direct experience of the struggle, is unable to train the third; and the third generation, for whom the struggle is old history, is unable to keep things going.

        This is exactly what happened to Phil’s father — he was the third generation.

        As a fourth generation, Phil can be the first generation in his own family saga.

        1. Beth*

          I ended up down a rabbit-hole, looking up details. At least in the English-speaking business world, the odds are really bad: 7 out of 10 newly wealthy families lose their fortune in the second generation, and 9 out of 10 lose it in the third. The skills (and luck) that allow a fortune to be made are not the same as the skills that allow it to be retained — and our culture, although fairly good at supporting the first, is terrible at supporting or teaching the second.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            It’s also just hard to run a company properly. The first generation self-selected on the skills and personalities you need, but the second and third are practically chosen at random.

            Phil’s father might have wasted the family fortune, but he likely would never have built one himself if he didn’t come from rich parents. Most people don’t, for a whole range of reasons.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Yep. I found a great blurb in Forbes years ago. It said that most family fortunes are lost for one of two reasons: apathy or carelessness.
            Just my opinion, the drive it takes to start a business is not the same drive that it takes to maintain a business. I am not sure we can teach people to want their business and want it to succeed. That’s something they find inside themselves.

      2. Filosofickle*

        I used to work for a company that advised family-owned companies about succession planning. There’s a lot that goes poorly in this process — not training, not letting go, not giving them a voice until it’s too late. Family owned companies often need to look outside for the next generation. (And they will struggle to let go with them, too.)

        Rather than see it as entitlement, I see it as being less beholden. Generation 2 can be really invested in realizing their parents’ vision, but Generation 3 may not and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. What if my passion is engineering, but my family runs a bakery? Or if I want to be a graphic designer but my family runs a landscaping company? What if I don’t actually want to run any company? If the organization is awesome and does work I’m personally passionate about, then being born into is an awesome opportunity. Or if it’s big enough to offer many kinds of roles for the various interests the kids/grandkids have, that’s awesome too. But being expected to run a company that doesn’t actually align with what kind of work I want to do would not fly with me. I get to live my own life.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I saw this with a jewelry store in my hometown. Generation one and two were very into creating and repairing jewelry. The guy in generation two said he loved the challenge of working in miniature. But his siblings hadn’t wanted the store – so they had already experienced some of the “what do we do when so and so doesn’t want the family business?” issues, and had worked through it. When his kids both chose nursing to jewelry- he sold the store, and wasn’t upset. All he was worried about was “will my kids be able to support themselves, not will the family business continue. I think the fact that he’d been through the feelings part when his siblings chose different careers helped a lot.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Parental or familial expectations can really back fire.
          You WILL have kids.
          You WILL keep and maintain my huge piece of real estate for your kids.
          You will go to college.

          I have many examples of these types of things. If enforced they do not play out well. My husband went to college and got a BA that he never, ever used. When he was working on the degree he knew he had no intention of using it. I asked him why he went to college. “My parents said I had to go.” It was a waste of everyone’s time and money.
          My friend is keeping some land to pass down. The land has become dead weight for him. There are so many problems.

      3. ArtK*

        I remember reading something to the effect that family corporate dynasties rarely make it past the 2nd generation. This was in a business publication and IIRC there was data behind it.

        1. JSPA*

          In the cultures where it does, one way is to mechanisms for bringing supremely talented underlings into the family (I’m thinking here of Japan)… or by having a very strong extended family network to draw on (I’m thinking here of Korea).

          I suppose BBC (before birth control) if someone had 8 or 10 kids, there was a decent chance that one of them (or their spouse, or one of your multiple siblings, or their kids) would be both interested and talented and feel that “family” pull. With fewer kids, the odds of those things all lining up get iffy at best.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      My uncle sort of did this. He did like to work, kind of, or at least he worked a lot, but he didn’t do a lot of the other things you need to do to build up a business: Advertise, encourage your employees, reinvest, etc. Just ran on jobs from his army buddies and spent all the profits on stuff for himself, and complained that all the people he trained left for competitors (he didn’t offer benefits and he was a mule-driver as a boss). He ran what was functionally a three-generation shop into the ground and then almost literally died at his desk (had a stroke. Died ten days later, but pretty close). My cousins went on to do other things.

      My cousins ended up taking it over, anyway. One is an IT guy and one is an accountant married to someone who has worked in PR for years, and they still have a bunch of long-time employees who know the specifics of the work, so I think if anyone can turn it around, they can, but it stunk to watch him drag it down. At least nobody is blaming them for not stepping in sooner–the man was impossible to work with.

      1. blackcat lady*

        It’s a wise person that knows their talents and strength. Not every person can run the big three ring circus. It also takes strength of willpower to not use the business as a personal piggybank. Sorry about your uncle’s business and good luck to the cousins!

    1. Artemesia*

      I heard the story of a young woman with talent and ambition who has been sidelined from taking over her father’s company. Hope we get a different update down the road, but it sounds like an entirely unnecessary interim CEO step that will prevent her from having that role.

      1. allathian*

        It would be interesting to know the ownership structure of this company, and does the LW own any part of it? If she does, the board will have to listen to her as a shareholder if nothing else.

  10. middlemgmt*

    OP, look at construction/building associations for “succession planning” education. it is a huge topic in the construction industry and you will find a lot of resources to navigate this from both your father’s side and yours!

    1. Chashka*

      I like this idea a lot. Both father and daughter would do well to take advantage of this, and it might be especially helpful to do it together, so they can discuss all the information they are learning together.

  11. infopubs*

    This update is interesting to me because it illustrates how important it is to recognize the stories we tell and how they can influence our feelings. Having the commenting section react to all the negative parts of your story helped you realize that you didn’t want to be seen that way. You didn’t want your family or your business to be seen that way. And you changed how you tell the story, which is great because now your pride shine through! For myself, if I catch myself telling the same negative story over and over, I try to stop and really listen to what I’m saying about myself and how I feel. Am I trapped in this interpretation? Can I focus in a different direction? So glad you chose to see the positive and lean into it, OP!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It’s funny/odd how that works. In strong disagreement the questioner can find their own answers. I have seen that happen a lot, too. It no longer bothers me if someone disagrees, if they have firmed up/clarified their stance then I tend to believe I have done my best for them. Because many times, the answer is that there is no real answer it’s just what we make it. OP has decide to make a space for herself here and that is her answer. With the insight in her post here, I am thinking that she will get this.

  12. Ruby Jackson*

    Family businesses can range on the spectrum from Manson to Waltons. I’m glad this family trends toward the Waltons and that it worked out for the OP.

  13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m glad that you were able to successfully move those weighted responsibilities onto an office manager/HR professional! I got that feeling for your original letter that you were just stretched too darn thin and needed some reworking there.

    Very excited to see another woman in construction leadership that’s staying with it! Cheers to on going success and continuing to be a place that understands everyone involved is human and requires respect.

  14. avani*

    I’m in a fam business myself and we are definitely looking at building out our HR function – I think it would help with a lot of the same issues you were taking on that the family members find themselves taking on. What is the office manager-like responsibilities this person will have as well?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s usually administrative support functions. Think of it as an advanced executive assistant role. It’ll depend on your industry and business needs for specifics.

      For construction/manufacturing specifically they can also be trained in safety and OSHA, so you can have them do the administrative parts of that. Reporting, keeping up to date with postings and memos that need to be sent around as regulations come into effect or change. Keeping up to date on annual reporting of all kinds and calling in a tech when the security system is on the blitz or fire alarm keeps getting triggered, etc.

      Many also do accounting functions and are customer support functions. A lot of times, when people start to need a bookkeeper/accounting manager, they are at the same point that someone with HR functions is great. So that’s how HR/Accounting tends to mesh with each other in small business plans. And because you’re dealing with the accounting, it can make it easier to feed that into the customer support functions.

      It will depend on how much HR you need and how small the business is. The size of the company matters greatly. There’s a difference in time needed between maintaining benefits portfolios for a couple dozen folks and doing it for twice that many! At some point you separate HR and Office Management of course!

      It also streamlines things. So you all have a main point of contact to work with, since a lot of this is intertwined. You’re adding another central “hub” when you bring in someone like this.

      If you go this route, I encourage you to look at this as a position that can grow because that’s frequently the case. And you want to find someone who has a background in your size of businesses and a history of wearing these multiple hats.

  15. Lizy*

    This is such a satisfying update. Sometimes the right answer isn’t even the answer to the question we asked!

  16. Trawna*

    “Overall I’m really proud of the moves I had this company make over the last year, and specifically the last couple months- the hires, the new projects, the changes in roles, and the leadership/accountability structures I’ve put in place.”

    Sounds like some pretty adept CEO’ing to me ; )

    1. JSPA*

      Yes. I fear OP continues to sell herself short, when objectively, she’s doing everything right (including reaching out here, then processing and incorporating the feedback into a functional plan).

      Being on the board is helpful, but people who are on the board don’t always stay on the board.

      And it should be equally on all of the PM’s to bring in more business to support the back office! OP doesn’t “own” that task more than the other PM’s do, just because she, in the interim, took on those jobs. She may care more about it, in that she’s already thinking as if she were CEO, and that’s legit; except she doesn’t have the title or the pay of the CEO.

      She’s entirely in her rights to do PM stuff, if that’s what makes her happiest. We’re allowed to search out what makes us happy. But it dang well better be making her happy, because on paper, she’s doing a top-brass role as well as a PM role, except without the recognition.

  17. anonymous73*

    It sounds like things have improved, but I don’t get the impression that you’ve ever sat down and had a serious heart to heart conversation with your dad. Not a “in the heat of the moment/crisis mode/frustration” type of talk. A real, get it all out there conversation. Your dad sounds like a reasonable man that you can talk to and I think this needs to be made a priority so that you can both figure out the long term plan. Yes you’ve hired people who have taken over some of the tasks you were taking on yourself, but it still sounds like you’re not fully vested in the new plan and your dad isn’t a mind reader. You need to tell him how you feel and work together to figure things out.

  18. Lizzo*

    This is so great, OP! Excellent steps towards even better things in the future. Keep having the hard conversations, and also keep treating your team well–they will pay it back x100 both in terms of performance and loyalty.

  19. Lily of the Meadow*

    A question for the commenters defending the assumptions of sexism in comments to the original post: by being so defensive, are you not also perpetuating sexism yourselves? You are telling this woman, who clearly stated that her father is not sexist, that he is, in actuality, a man who wholeheartedly believes in promoting women in historically male dominated industries, that she is not capable of determining whether or not her own father, whom she knows far better than any of the commentariat, is a sexist or not, by definition of her being this man’s daughter, i.e., a woman. I find it quite disturbing that other women would promulgate such behavior; if she states that her father is not a sexist, then we need to take her at her word, or we are no better than that which we profess to so dislike, and, in fact, means that we are sexist ourselves. Asking if such a situation exists in the original post is a good point to bring up, but to continue to defend it in the face of the OP’s hard feelings about it, and her statement that the contrary is the actual truth, makes the commenters doing so just as bad as what they are defending from the original post.

    1. blood orange*

      From what I’m seeing I don’t see a lot of people actually arguing with OP that her father is or is not sexist. There’s a deference to her judgement on that. The comments on the original post are getting some “shame on you” comments here that it was somehow wrong to probe into sexism (conscious or unconscious) as a possibility. Considering the situation presented, I think that’s at least a fair question. I’d argue a really obvious question considering the industry and details shared with us.

      I don’t see anyone getting really defensive here. Honestly, the comments arguing that sexism shouldn’t have been brought up sound kind of tone deaf. We’re talking about a female project manager for a construction company for goodness sake.

      1. Lily of the Meadow*

        There were a number of people defending the original comments of sexism, and not so many commenters stating that they acknowledge that the OP knows best. I stated in my original comment that bringing up the question of sexism in her first post was understandable, but to continue to defend it in light of these further details is just plain wrong. I am sorry if that is unpalatable to you, but this is how I see it. Men are not automatically sexist because they are men.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          No one is saying that men are automatically sexist because they are men; people are saying that certain industries still have sexism baked into their culture regardless of the individual people involved.

    2. Bamcheeks*

      This question seems to stem from a really naive definition of “sexism” which sees is as something which operates separately from the gender system more broadly, but in short: no.

      1. Lily of the Meadow*

        In short, yes. Assuming a woman cannot determine what is or is not sexism for herself is, in fact, sexism. One is assuming that her biological sex means that she is incapable and unable to determine sexism for herself. We do not get that right to make those kinds of determinations for others. It is not only sexist, but paternalistic as well. To bring it up and ask the question is not reprehensible, even though the predominance of such assumptions by many women is concerning in itself, but the continuation of said assumptions in the face of her declaration that such is not the case is more than concerning.

    3. Cat Lady*

      “You are telling this woman, who clearly stated that her father is not sexist, that he is, in actuality, a man who wholeheartedly believes in promoting women in historically male dominated industries, that she is not capable of determining whether or not her own father, whom she knows far better than any of the commentariat, is a sexist or not, by definition of her being this man’s daughter, i.e., a woman.”

      That’s the thing: you can be a man who wholeheartedly believes in promoting women in historically male-dominated industries and still have blind spots. You can still fail to recognize sexist workplace dynamics when they emerge in your workplace, you can still make unconscious assumptions about what your female employees should or shouldn’t be doing, and you can still create an environment that disadvantages women. All completely without bad intent, but it’s still sexism.

      And the reality is, what OP was describing (a female employee being stuck with all the administrative work) is a common way that sexism manifests in workplaces. I’m sure her father didn’t create this situation on purpose, but it still happened. People aren’t being “sexist” or “paternalistic” towards OP by pointing that out, even after she’s made it clear that her father is not an intentionally sexist person. It’s not about his character (or at least, it shouldn’t be, and I agree that any comments going after his character are inappropriate and rude).

      Honestly, I don’t think that dividing people up into “sexists” and “non-sexists” is useful. We are all raised in a sexist society, and I think we all have some baggage from that to work through, no matter what a person’s gender is. That doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us, well, people.

    4. Tali*

      Not a single person, here or on the original post, is saying that OP is too stupid as a woman to know when she’s being discriminated against.

      People are looking at the facts and patterns presented by OP–construction industry, woman taking on admin work instead of work that helps her career advance, daughter among sons being treated differently–and suggesting that sexism could be an influence at work here.

      And in fact this suggestion was ultimately helpful to OP, who realized she was holding herself back and was able to delegate that work away. This is exactly why people bring up potential bias: to get people to reevaluate the situation and look at the larger pattern, and make changes if they need to!

  20. Lily of the Meadow*

    Also, and I cannot believe it took me this long to think of this, but accusing men of sexism just because they are men is just as sexist as any man who insists that women are lesser beings. Accusing someone of possessing negative characteristics just because of their biological sex is the definition of sexism.

    1. Bamcheeks*

      Again, this is why it’s very reductive to think of “sexism” in terms of a personal flaw rather than look at the broader system of a structural gender hierarchy.

    2. Quack Quack No*

      This is an intriguing conception. In that discussion, as in many discussions of sexism, I saw commenters say, not, “your dad is a man and therefore sexist” but “based on my experiences as an employee/a woman in a male-dominated field/a woman in your field I see patterns of sexism here which might be holding you back.”

  21. Boof*

    Nice OP and yes glad you were able to step back and stop saying yes/volunteering for things you don’t actually want to do; that’s a big skill especially when you’re stepping from a junior role to a senior one.

    I’m going to echo questions/concerns about you maybe being CEO someday, but no clear plan. That is VERY IMPORTANT; life is unpredictable and what if something happened to your dad suddenly/unexpectedly? Further, if there’s no reason to change… probably nothing will. So I guess the question is; 1) do you want to be CEO or do you like being project manager and having some board oversight better? Serious question; you do not HAVE to be CEO if you actually don’t like what the job requires (my guess is it will be more administrative and less hands on construction). If you do want to be CEO, start understanding what it takes to get there (meaning, is there training etc you need to do it well) and a timeline to achieve it. If the timeline is not on track, reevaluate, see why, and again, don’t be afraid to bail if things aren’t working out for you.

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