Life after quitting the family firm

By Lauren Levine

Working with relatives requires a different set of rules than most jobs, and departing from the family business should also be handled with care. Unlike at another company, you’ll have to see these people again. A lot. When you leave the family company behind, it’s never just a business decision. Treading carefully is a must.

After two and a half years as the digital content coordinator at the group of radio stations my dad owns (a company where my mom and boyfriend also work), I was ready to pursue my dream of writing. I had learned a lot during my time at the family business, but the field wasn’t my true passion. Though I enjoyed having the ability to shape my work as a one-woman department, I was ready to become a real, live writer. I needed to work someplace where the employees hadn’t known me since I was selling Girl Scout cookies.

I had let my dad know about my plans to depart while I was still looking, but got hired much faster than I expected. I was going to be a copywriter and editor for a company based out of Charlotte, N.C. My parents were very proud, but I could tell that my dad was also feeling other emotions. Here was guaranteed job security, but I was going to go work for someone else, where anything could happen. A scary prospect. I would also be working remotely, a concept that was fairly foreign to someone who runs a normal office (as normal as an office where tattooed guys come in to play acoustic sets can be). He also enjoyed the family dynamic, and had hoped it would continue on for longer than it did.

After I left, I assumed everyone could agree that my old position wasn’t a good fit for me and was thrilled about my new role. However, my excitement about my new job and blasé attitude toward the old one wasn’t well received by my dad, who had put his heart and soul into the company that I was leaving behind without a second thought. While I could laugh about my failure to copy the proper people on e-mails or a paperwork mix-up with another employee, to my dad it wasn’t funny. It was his company, and what I thought were harmless jokes were actually hurtful. I didn’t even realize it, but my approach was causing a rift between us.

The adjustment period from going from co-workers to just relatives was also hard. My dad and I had gotten used to the luxury of seeing each other every day. Whether it was for a quick lunch down the street, or an in-office visit during a free minute, we spent more time together than ever before. We had become lazy about making plans outside of work, and this laziness continued even when we were no longer co-workers. Soon I was hardly seeing my parents at all, even though we lived in the same city.

While we were each struggling in our own ways, no one was discussing the problems at hand. Finally, things came to a head and my dad and I ended up hashing out our feelings. He told me that my attempt at humor about my time as his employee was actually insulting. I told him I needed him to take time to learn more about my new position so we could talk about it properly. We both agreed that we had to rebuild our just-relatives relationship. After all, we were father and daughter long before we were co-workers.

Through baby steps, in the form of lunches and joking e-mails, we were able to get our relationship back on track. With my understanding that a casual comment wasn’t just a joke, and his support as I pursued my passion, mutual understanding was reached. Though it’s definitely harder to leave a company when you share a last name with the CEO, there are certainly more benefits to staying close with your co-workers after you leave. Honest communication and some empathy from all parties help to make the transition seamless.

Lauren Levine, 25, is a copywriter and editor for Grammar Chic Inc. and a freelance writer and blogger. She formerly worked at her father’s media company, Galaxy Communications in Syracuse, N.Y. She blogs at







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July/August 2013


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