Bernadette Castro
Commissioner, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and former CEO of Castro Convertibles Inc., a $100 million pullout sofa business that her family sold in 1993

I had a long private-sector life during which I ran Castro Convertibles under the watchful eye of my father. For the past five years I've enjoyed public-sector life as a cabinet member for Governor George E. Pataki of New York. My biggest mistake was that I tried to take the same management style and skills that worked in my executive life and bring them into my home, in parenting my four children.

This is awkward. I have a wonderful and loving relationship with all four of my children, and I don't want in any way to embarrass them. But let me give you an example. I was convinced that one of my sons, Jonathan Austin, would get great benefit from going to law school -- even though his dream was to produce films. I should have listened to him and let him follow his heart. Instead, it was as if I took out a pencil and paper and chose a career path for him by doing the math.

I used my persuasion skills and my sales skills every day in the office to get people to accept and join in with my bold vision for our company. All I had to do was to use those skills with my son to get him to go to law school. Children buy into your vision early on. They probably do it, one, because you're good and, two, because they love you and don't want to disappoint you.

Today my son is not a practicing lawyer. He lives on the West Coast, where he produces video documentaries about the environment. Though there's value to any form of education, his time would have been better spent in film school than in law school. I feel as if he's kind of gotten a late start, and now he's playing catch-up.

I don't give my kids advice anymore unless they ask for it. It's critical to discourage entrepreneurs from the feeling that we can tailor our children's lives. You can't think your children are looking for the same amount of direction, guidance, and decision making as your employees. All entrepreneurs struggle with that. Anybody who denies it's a problem, I think, is simply not facing reality. --Written with Mike Hofman