Henry Jackson eagerly awaited the arrival of his son, James, who was returning home after graduating with a master’s degree in business administration. The large wooden door to his office flung open as a smile appeared across Henry’s face upon seeing the successor to his fifty-year-old watch manufacturing business, J.W.
“I’m back, Dad!” James said as he entered the office with open arms.
Henry straightened his tailored suit and welcomed his son with a confident handshake instead of a hug — because all personal relationships must be left outside the workplace. It was a lesson Henry had learned from his father when he first joined the watchmaking business at the age of sixteen.
“I’m so happy you’re back, James,” Henry said as he cupped James’ hand between his palms. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for this day.”
James responded with a smile as Henry held his hand and began to walk to the newly-renovated office for his son, carrying a small gift-wrapped box. “Come. Walk with me.” Henry said.
“Where are we going, Dad?” James asked.
“There’s a surprise for you —,” Henry replied as he clutched the gift-wrapped box close to his chest.
“Dad, before you tell me anything, I have a bigger surprise that I want to share with you,” James interrupted his father.
“I’m sure your surprise isn’t as big as mine,” Henry said with a wink.
“Wait till you see this,” James said as he excitedly pulled out an envelope from his jacket.
Henry looked at him, confused. “What’s inside this envelope?”
“It’s a surprise! Go ahead and open it,” James replied. “You’re going to be very proud of me.”
Slowly, Henry opened the envelope carrying a secret that would decide the fate of his company. His face contorted into a frown as he read through James’s job offer letter at a large investment bank in New York City.
“I don’t understand,” Henry said as he waved the letter angrily before James. “What is this supposed to mean?”
“Read it again, Dad,” James insisted. “I got my dream job in New York, Dad. Aren’t you happy? Aren’t you proud of me?”
“Why would you want to work for someone else when you can use all your skills and education to grow our family business?” Henry asked.
“This watchmaking business?” James scoffed. “I have no interest in being a part of this business, Dad.”
Henry was shocked to see James’ irreverence toward the family business. “Does our family business mean nothing to you?”
“I want to be independent and make something of myself, Dad,” James replied. “Besides, wouldn’t it be better for you to just sell this business than worry about it every day at your age?”
“Your grandfather started this business fifty years ago with a dream to build a company that produces premium quality watches,” Henry began. “With a strong sense of purpose and family values, I worked hard with my father to transform this company from nothing to a trusted brand spanning over five decades, and you want me to throw it all away?”
“There’s no reason to be so emotional about this, Dad. This isn’t something I envisioned for myself,” James shrugged. “I’d rather work a nine-to-five job. Besides, wouldn’t all my education and years of hard work be wasted when I could have just joined you at an early age?”
“It is because of this family business that you could even earn that education, James,” Henry tried to reason. “Are you diminishing the value of this business that has given you this luxurious lifestyle?”
“I am not asking for your permission to accept the job, Dad,” James said irritatedly. “I don’t want to be called a watchmaker, and my decision is final.”
Henry was speechless. His heart sank and without saying another word, he began to walk back to his office, but he accidentally dropped the gift-wrapped box to the floor. James stooped down with an intense curiosity and quickly unwrapped the box. Inside, was the key to his new office.
“What’s this key for?” James asked.
“The key to our family legacy,” Henry replied, turning his back to a moment of shattered dreams.
James couldn’t understand his father’s emotions and accepted the job offer in New York City. Over the next five years, he worked tirelessly in the corporate world as a business advisor, helping several business owners in making the right decisions.
However, during this time, with Henry’s deteriorating health and lack of support, the watchmaking business was witnessing the slowest period in its lifetime.
James visited his father at the unusually low-key Christmas party for J.W.
“This party has never been so dull in all these years, Dad,” James said as he looked at the distraught faces of all the employees of the company. “What happened here?”
“Oh well,” Henry began. “They’re all sad because this may be the last year we will be having a Christmas party at the office.”
“What?” James asked, shocked. “Are you giving up on the family business?”
“Our business is failing and my health doesn’t permit me to keep going,” Henry continued. “What’s the point of all this stress when you want nothing to do with our watchmaking business and are happy with your corporate job, right?”
James fell silent.
“What’s the matter, son?” Henry asked. “Aren’t you happy at your dream job?”
“I feel like a slave, Dad,” James replied. “I’m always stressed and overworked. I have no time for myself, and I’ve been advising all kinds of businesses when I could have just helped you save and grow our family business.”
Henry felt pleased to hear James say the words our family business.
“Well, I guess it was important for you to have this experience for you to realize the importance of family and the family business,” Henry said.
“You’re right,” James said. “I have learned a lot and if I had joined the family business five years ago, I wouldn’t have much to offer. Can I ask you for something, Dad?”
“Can I still join you and help you run the business?” James asked.
“I’m afraid it’s too late,” Henry replied. “We’re in deep waters and I don’t want you to ruin your career over a failing business.”
“Give me one chance, Dad,” James persisted. “I will make sure this isn’t the last Christmas party at J.W.”
Henry’s eyes welled up as he hugged his son, breaking the workplace rule for the first time in his lifetime.
“Open your hand, James,” Henry said as he slipped his hand into his coat pocket and pulled out the key to James’s new office. “Here you go. Save J.W. for me, will you?”
James clutched the key tight between his fingers. “I will turn this around, Dad. I promise.”
James quit his corporate job and joined the family business with a fresh perspective and skills to enable the execution of his plans.
Over the next year, with his expertise in technology and business advisory, James streamlined the operations of J.W., helping it weather the storm and set it back on the path to growth.
James was able to leverage his connections at the investment bank to raise more capital for J.W. and expand on the company’s manufacturing and advertising budget. This helped the company launch a diverse range of modern smartwatches that could track human activity and monitor their vital statistics. J.W. was now catering to the masses, and in a short span, it had been able to recapture its lost position in the market with its new and improved innovative and futuristic strategy.
MORAL OF THE STORY:
The other side of the grass is always green, and while James thought it was better to have a corporate job than run the family business, he had to first experience the other side before making a choice. It is important to let every generation have the ability to choose rather than imposing one’s vision and philosophies.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Have you or any of your family members ever felt it would be easier to pursue a corporate career as opposed to running the family business?
- Did you receive or provide support in making a decision?
- What was your experience if you chose a corporate career?
This parable and short story is a draft from the new book “The Family Business Messenger”, being published in early 2022.
For more information on the final book release and book launch, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved, Reg Athwal, RTS Books
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