It’s a business, not a family

The first paying job I ever had was as a paperboy. My cousins and I delivered papers in the neighborhood in El Paso where we lived. It was somewhat enjoyable because it din’t require much brain power. The newspapers would be waiting for me when I got to my aunt’s house (where I lived for a year). I’d roll them up and put them in my bag, jump on my bike and head off to deliver them. After a few days, I had memorized where to deliver the papers.

Of course, there were some times when I detested the job. When I was off of school, I wanted to be off work as well. When I was sick, I wanted to be free from having to deliver the papers. But the papers needed to be delivered even when the weather was awful. For those times, I had help from my cousins, my aunt, or mom. Dad even helped once when he was visiting. It was the most awesome thing — at that age — when we all loaded all of our papers into the back of his pickup truck and threw them at the houses from the truck bed.

However, as I said, it was my cousins and I doing the delivery, and our parents helped. It was a family thing, and the profits had to be shared with them. If any of us failed, we failed each other, causing tension. But it wasn’t too bad because it was a small-time gig and we were just kids. The stakes would have been higher if we were older, in terms of finances and in terms of personal relationships.

When I was in college, my cousin Joe got me a job at a store he managed at a mall. It wasn’t a tough job, looking back at it. It was a bunch of us teenagers trying to sell overpriced clothes to yuppie teens and young adults. There was pop music playing overhead with the corresponding video playing on old CRT televisions on the walls. When there wasn’t much to do, it was fun. When it got busy, God help us.

I wasn’t involved in selling as much as the others were. Once in a while, I’d help someone find something in the store. However, most of the time, I just took stuff out of shipping boxes and put it up on the clothes hangers. In essence, I was a stockboy. It was fine with me. I was in class most of the day and I didn’t really want to deal with people wanting to know if they looked better in one set of jeans over the other. I also saw how crushed some of my friends working there were when they lost a sale. I did just fine with my $4.15 per hour, part-time.

One night, we go really busy and things were falling behind. I wasn’t getting the clothes out as fast as the acting manager, “Rico”, wanted. (My cousin was off.) We were also goofing around too much and at times not paying attention to customers’ needs. Rico got angry at me and told me to go home, so I did. I was very angry and hurt. I felt that I failed Joe and that I was going to hear about it forever from the family. Hours later, Joe would call me to tell me that Rico should have never sent me home, but that I was misbehaving and that he couldn’t have that at the store. It wasn’t good for business.

A couple of years after that, Joe asked me if I wanted to work for him in one of the stores where he sold cellphones and cellphone contracts. From time to time, I’d go and fill-in if he needed it, but I decided early on after the whole thing at the mall that I was never going to work for or employ anyone in my family. It just wasn’t good for business.

I didn’t base this on my own family experiences, however. My little brother got a job at a hardware store run by a couple. He told me that the owners were pretty much married to the store. If it went under, they would probably be done as a couple.

Then there are all the examples we see on television shows about businesses (mostly restaurants) going under because a whole family poured themselves into the business that it breaks them apart if the business fails. Now, most of us don’t own our own business. We work for a business that hopefully doesn’t have an entire family running the board.

Of course, I’m not saying that every family-owned business is going to fail or is not a good business in any way. Many of them are. But they are all one bad business transaction away from having family turmoil on top of business turmoil, and there’s nothing worse than family turmoil to really complicate everything.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen