On the topic of working with family, I thought I’d publish an excerpt from Elephant Tale – Mostly True Stories About Entrepreneurs, a book I wrote a few years ago.  Each chapter in Elephant Tales tells a story about an experience I had in real life, with the people turned into animals to protect the innocent.

Look for a few thoughts at the end.


“I just don’t get it!” trumpeted the Elephant. “We have a great product! We have a great reputation! And our service is unparalleled!”

“Why are our competitors growing so much faster than us!” he complained to the consultant.

The consultant looked at the pile of papers before her, all the information she requested of the Elephant. “Let me have a week to look this over, interview your executive team, and ask some questions of your customers, and I’ll get back to you in a month,” she said.

At their meeting the following month, the consultant did indeed have some answers. She walked the Elephant through charts showing improvements that might be made in delivery and some additional things customers wanted from their suppliers. However, she saved the most significant item for last.

“Your growth slower than that of your competitors is because of your Vice President of Sales,” she stated. The consultant went through the chart ticking off her findings, leaving little doubt in the Elephant’s mind she was correct.

In summary, she said, “His sales process is old, inflexible to your prospect’sand the market’s needs, and therefore unable to shift quickly to respond to changes in the industry. As a result, neither can your sales team. That is why you are not keeping up with your competition.”

The Elephant sat silently, and his shoulders sagged. “That’s a problem,” he said quietly. “The VP of Sales is my brother-in-law.”

The consultant sat, thinking for a few minutes. Gently she said, “It is a choice only you can make. You can keep up with your competitors… or you can have peaceful Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.” And she packed up her things and left the Elephant’s office.

A few months later, the Elephant called the consultant. “I’ve decided,” he said. “Christmas and Thanksgiving are more important to me than a few more dollars.”
“Are you sure?” asked the consultant. “If you find your path first, everyone else will follow. If you aren’t happy, no one else can be either.”

“Yes,” said the Elephant. “I’m sure.”

“Great,” answered the consultant. “Now, let’s work out a plan to maximize what sales can achieve, and I have a few ideas for the rest of your business too.”

That next Christmas Eve, the Elephant rested comfortably in his favorite chair, before the crackling logs in the fireplace, watching the kids crawl around the tree stuffed with brightly colored packages. His wife and sister-in-law laughed as they prepared the table for the upcoming feast. And his brother-in-law trunk-wrestled with his son, knocking over a chair, as their play became more rambunctious.

“The business did well,” the Elephant thought. “Grew a bit. Profits up. And we were even able to improve our customer engagement score.”

“Yes, I’m happy,” he thought. “I’m happy.”

A few final thoughts about The Elephant And His Brother-In-Law.

  • Working with family creates far more specific situations as opposed to working with employees. Employees come and go. Family is forever.
  • Making allowances for family sets an improper standard for relationships with employees. It often set a target to become “family.”
  • Separating a family member from an organization feels like a divorce. You can expect other family members, even those who never worked for you, to take sides.

I asked one business owner, with several family members on the payroll, if she decided to allow company growth to be limited to the abilities of her family.

She said, “No!”

I then asked if she had decided to move or replace family members when their abilities no longer fit the company needs.

She said, “No!”

If you face similar challenges, I can help. Just contact me here and let’s chat.



“I don’t like the word ‘balance.’ To me, that somehow conjures up conflict between work and family… as long as we think of these things as conflicting, we will never have happiness. True happiness comes from integration… of work, family, self, community.”

– Padmasree Warrior

“Integration doesn’t happen by accident.
It requires a plan.”

– Keith Okano

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