You love your dad. But you never thought you would want to work with him.

He runs a catering business near where you grew up. You're the oldest of three children. You've already put in almost seven years at the huge law firm you work for in the city.  

A New Perspective

Catering is a tough, tough business. Your dad employs dozens of full- and part-timers, and managing them is no easy task. He always seems to be tired. The hours are brutal. His customers are demanding. The competition is fierce.

Harsh winters like this one only add to the logistical nightmares of running a company like his. For more than 25 years, your dad has spent his Friday and Saturday nights at work, overseeing his people. You missed him, but you didn’t begrudge him for that. He still managed to make most of your basketball games and be there when you needed him. During that time, and after those games, your dad would head back to the office to pay taxes, write checks to insurance companies, collect money, order supplies, fight lawsuits, and schedule the next weekend’s jobs.  

You wanted nothing to do with it. Sure, you worked for him during the summers, lugging crates, cleaning tables, and mopping floors for extra cash. But the catering business? Ugh! You're a law-school graduate, for goodness sake! You're better than this. You don’t want to have anything to do with dad’s brutal, grimy, difficult, and yes, sometimes gross, business. You want something better, something more respectable, something more professional.

At least that’s what you thought. But now, after seven years working for a big company and representing big clients, you’re starting to have second thoughts. Maybe, just maybe, it might be better working for the family business.

The family business? What is this madness? Why would a smart, young attorney working at a prestigious, national law firm with brilliant partners, well-known clients, and a lucrative career ahead of him want to work at a dirty and difficult catering business with the old man?

You know why.

1. A business is a business is a business. In other words, it’s just a business. A law firm is really no different than a catering business. The three-piece suits don’t matter. The downtown address doesn’t matter. The status doesn’t matter. What matters about a business is that it’s profitably delivering a service or product to its customers and providing a livelihood for its people. You’re not some kind of super-passionate type. You like the law business. It has its challenges. But you’re starting to see that law, in the end, is no different than the catering business. They each have customers and employees and overhead and problems and challenges. So if you’re going to work for a business, why not work for your own business? Why not work with your dad?

Short of being a professional baseball player or a U.S. senator, pretty much every job, is...well, just a job. But you, like almost everyone else, would likely rather be sleeping or hiking or traveling or watching TV or doing something other than your job. Except, like everyone else, you realize that you need a job to afford a lifestyle. Liking your job is important because you spend so much of your time doing it. Some jobs are better than others. No job, particularly one that pays well, is easy.

Recently, you started to ask yourself: If I’m going to give my blood, sweat, and tears to a job for 12 hours a day, why give it to some other guy’s company when I could be giving it to my own? Why not own the profits of your labor instead of giving, or one day perhaps sharing, them with a bunch of partners you don’t even know? That’s what you’re thinking.

2. You want more control. At the law firm, like any big company, you have no control. You can’t choose your bosses. You don’t know who will be asking you to do things. You respond to clients. You report to partners. Even if you were to become a partner, you would then report to senior partners.

By the time you become a senior partner, you will be reporting to the nurse who is changing your diaper in the expensive nursing home that your partnership dollars can afford.

3. Life is short. Running a catering business is hard and demanding and full of headaches. But as an owner, you can manage these headaches just a little bit better. You have a little more control over your destiny. You can sneak out to watch your kid’s little league game or move your schedule around to accommodate your vacation plans without a boss breathing down your neck or your rivals innocently wondering where you’ve disappeared to this afternoon. Your dad managed to do this. His hours didn’t change, but he had a little more flexibility, more balance in his life. This is something you want, too.

Working for a large company has been a great experience, right? You learned how to dress and behave professionally. You grappled with big issues involving big dollars. You saw how a large firm manages its employees, bills its clients, schedules its resources, and handles personnel issues. You met and networked and learned from some really smart people who you will likely keep in touch with the rest of your life.

You saw what it takes to succeed in the corporate world and why so many fail. And you can take all of that knowledge and experience and know-how to your father’s little catering business in Massachusetts, so that you can help him run it better and one day take it over for yourself. It may not be prestigious. But it’s a living. And, after all, it's the life you want to have.