I can fire him, or he can quit
Eighteen year ago, my son Andy was at a crossroads, and so was I. He had worked for a medical communications company for three years and was ready to move on. My crossroad was the decision to make a full-time hire for my company -- Ginny Richardson Public Relations (GR-PR for short).
We went to dinner to discuss the idea of him working for me. We talked about responsibilities and salaries. Perhaps most important, we made a pact that remains to this day: at any time I could fire him, or at any time he could resign.
I found a document written when Andy had been working for me for six months: an excerpt:
Ginny -- Problems thus far:
1. I keep using endearments.
2. We chat too much.
3. I have spoken sharply once or twice. (After 18 years, this made me laugh.)
Ginny -- Good things thus far:
1. I am impressed with Andy's warmth and efficiency with clients, media folks, walk-ins, etc. Like me, he is a people person.
2. It's great to have someone to talk with about clients and strategies.
3. He knows how to fix office machines.
4. I trust him completely. What a gift.
Andy says one pitfall is bringing work home or to family gatherings. This can be especially challenging when working with family. We have sat at the Thanksgiving table, and after a while, a client initiative comes up. This can be a buzz kill for the family, so we back off immediately.
Another pitfall: spending a lot of time with someone at work can leave less time for spending quality time outside of work. This exists in any family business. When you spend Monday through Friday with a family member, you may not wish to see them as often for a cookout on Sunday.
The flip side of the coin is spending time with a family member five days a week. We often find ourselves at lunch talking briefly about a client and then roaring with laughter about something nonwork related. Those are the moments that make up for and exceed any lost Sunday cookouts.
Andy has taken the company in many new directions. He opened our service offerings into the digital space such as online reputation management and website design, an ever-increasing important element of public relations that would not have happened without him.
Another example of a major change is our community service project. In 1996, I founded a pro bono speakers bureau for Chicago area clubs and organizations. All speakers present for free, so I named it Free Speech. Upon joining the company, Andy brought the bureau online. With my blessing (and relief), he took over completely.
A sample of his initiative: in 2015, he designed an interactive website and changed the name to FreeSpeakers.org. Finding success, he duplicated the bureau in other cities. Today, FreeSpeakers.org is in Chicago, Phoenix, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Orange County, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee.
All parent-child work situations are unique, but a mother/son combo is rare. It takes an especially secure young man to work for his mother. Andy has enough confidence that he has never felt he was coasting on my coattails.
As I eased into a back seat position at the company, my partner gradually took over, and there has been zero anxiety about it. Looking back, I probably would have sold my company or shut it down when I hit retirement age. With my son at the helm, I'm able to work as much or as little as I wish, while my partner keeps the company successful.
Andy remarked that we have worked on many common goals together. Whether it's growing the business or communicating a new initiative for a client, we're on the same team, and that's a lot of fun. He notes an immense blessing -- trust is at the core of our relationship.
• Ginny Richardson is founder of Ginny Richardson Public Relations and the community service project FreeSpeakers.org. For more information: https://www.gr-pr.com/ and https://chicago.freespeakers.org/.