From Corporate World to Family Business: A Lebanese Tradition of Transition

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The struggle is real.

There are so many misconceptions tied to the working for dad route. The assumption is that you’re living a cushy lifestyle, able to jet off to Milan for a weekend on a whim, and incessantly receiving special treatment just for being the boss’ offspring. A chunk of the Lebanese youth, including myself, have decided to go for this path professionally and I want to shed some light on the truth of it.

BEFORE I GET ON MY SOAPBOX, SOME BACKGROUND: I work as the creative strategist for our American imports chain, Wesley’s Wholesale. Basically, I’m the advertising/marketing/PR/anything-on-Adobe/all-around-social person of the company.

Why would you want to work for your family?

When I thought about my career path and how I would grow in a corporate structure, I saw myself being able to do the work to make it to the summit. It was not a question of capability, it was more about investing in the future. Climbing the ladder, especially with Lebanon’s salary margin, looked depressing. If I wanted to live according to the standards that I’m used to while growing up, it was hard to imagine how to do that given the limited liquidity a corporate job could offer, even in the long run.

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Your salary is probably SO much higher than what it was at your old job.

Not necessarily. Working to run an expanding business doesn’t automatically equal Rich Kids of Beverly Hills status. There are more costs, more sacrifices, and more spending when you’re trying to keep all the cogs greased. A machine won’t run on prayer alone. However, at the end of the day, you’re busting your butt for your family empire, not partners behind glass doors. You’re not focused on the monthly wage because you’re looking at the bigger picture. This is your livelihood, it’s what puts your sisters through college, it’s what you can build your future-life on.

So you’re guaranteed a top position where you’ll never be fired. How difficult for you.

It’s not like being crowned a duchess. Do not assume that all heirs/heiresses of family empires are undeserving brats. There is immense pressure with such an inheritance. Knowing that suddenly there is a beast that you need to figure out how to tame when you were used to caring for domesticated kittens? It’s overwhelming.

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If you’ve got that position or that’s the road you’re on, it’s because your bosses think you’re worthy and up to the task. They see your potential even if you don’t. If you’re useless, no one’s going to drag a dead horse, not even your parents. They’ll only tolerate you for so long before they chuck your ass out. It’s not personal, it’s business.

What do you even do there? Aren’t you a designer?

I’m a designer with a background in advertising. This comes in handy when expanding a mom & pop, brick & mortar imports empire. I use what I learned via the art of selling in order to improve our model and approach. Branding, in-store customer experience, public relations, brand equity – so much of design thinking is part of running a retail business.

In essence, being part of management is like working for a start-up and your job title doesn’t encompass all that you do. You have to wear many hats and learn all facets of the business that you aren’t qualified for for one simple reason: it’s your business. There’s no such thing as “that’s not my job” because everything is your job. If someone slacks off or makes a mistake, you have to put out the fires and pay for the damage.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire someone more qualified for the job? 

In absolute terms, yes. If your spawn is in a completely unrelated field, not in it to win, or plain incompetent, finding someone else would be the better option. I can understand why many families don’t do this though: trust. When you have started a business that is making dough, you’re not going to grant the inside info to a stranger. The secrets of the trade, the magic sauce in the burger, the heart battery thing in Tony Stark’s chest – you can’t give away your recipe for success or you could risk betrayal. Confidentiality clauses can only get you so far before John Doe is stealing your concept and suppliers from right under you.

Don’t you have any brothers?

I can do anything my nonexistent brother could’ve done. Like a boss. Next question.

But you get to do whatever you want, right?

There is more freedom. Creatively, I have direct contact with my client at all times (dad) and I have more flexibility to work on side projects because I dictate my own work load.

But do I get to sign off at 5pm everyday? No. At Sunday family breakfasts, you talk about incoming shipments. At birthday parties, you ask about people’s thoughts on blue corn tortilla chips. Even when walking down the aisle of a Whole Foods for some soap while on vacation in New York, you’re thinking, “oh my god, these chocolates would be such a hit at Wesley’s.” Work never stops, you’re always on the clock. Heck, I’m even blogging about it.

Oh, so…are you happy or not?

In the last few months, I’ve met a lot of people who told me they tried the family thing for a while and couldn’t stick with it. It’s not easy blurring the lines; it depends on the nature of the business, clashing personalities, and what someone wants to do with their life and where they want to do it. For now, I’m giving it a try. Like any job, it has its plusses and minuses. Regardless of the duration, I know my time isn’t being wasted when it’s going to la familia.

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3 thoughts on “From Corporate World to Family Business: A Lebanese Tradition of Transition

  1. You definitely made the right choice. It’s not like you even took the easy path, having gone through the motions of college degrees and formal employment at a real institution related to your field of study. I commend you for your decision, and I’m sure your family is beaming from ear to ear!

  2. Pingback: 10 Essentials for New Runners – Bambi's Soapbox

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