Joining the family business: How to prepare

Brothers Stephen and Peter Blommer, right, both executives at Blommer Chocolate Co., now being run by the third generation of Blommers.

Thinking about whether to enter the family business? Whether the family business is large, like Blommer Chocolate Co., or small, like the mom-and-pop deli or repair garage, the question of generational transition will inevitably arise.  Actually, it's two questions: Does the family business want to employ that particular member of the next generation and does that particular member of the next generation really want to hop on board?

Peter Blommer, president and chief operating officer at Blommer Chocolate Co., explained his philosophy on that subject during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. He's part of the third generation leading the family business, now in its 75th year. Blommer leads at the Chicago-based company's East Greenville factory.

"Joining the family business should never be seen as an obligation or an entitlement," Blommer said. Same deal, the other way.  Just as the family member is not obliged to join the company and not entitled to a job, neither is the company obliged to hire the family member.

"A family business is a wonderful, powerful, rewarding entity to work in, if they are run right," he said. "By that I mean, if they have don’t allow entitlement to get rooted. A family business needs to run for the business and the family should enhance it.

Here's his advice to someone considering joining a family business: "Go out and develop yourself somewhere else so that, if and when you do enter a family business, you do it in a way that provides a value to the family business and also gives you the confidence that you are there not because of your last name or your family connection but because you have something to add."

Is that because, I asked, you need to have confidence to lead?

"You do," Blommer said. Also, "people need to know you are competent to want to be led by you."

Blommer has three children. The oldest is 19, the youngest 16, just about at the age where they are probably beginning to consider their futures. Here's what he tells his kids: "Find what you’re passionate about. And if that intersects where you have the skills, and somebody has a need for your skills, then welcome aboard."

Tuesday: How Peter Blommer made his decision to join the family business.