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What the Next Gen Should Know About the Family Biz

When I ask people how they got into the financial services industry, the most common response I receive is “A family member was successful in the business and recruited me.”

In last month’s column, I discussed what you need to know if you are thinking about bringing a member of the younger generation into your family’s firm. This month, I am addressing the younger family member who is considering joining the family business.

If you are thinking about joining a family firm or a first-generation (G1) agency, here are a few things you need to know.

» Make sure you understand the business model. One of the great things about our business is that it has many aspects and you can employ many creative methods to build your practice. So before you join a firm, make sure you fully understand their business model. This includes understanding how they attract new clients, what lines of business they handle and their support structure.

» Valuation. In a smaller agency, ask about and know the valuation. I heard a great piece of advice from a G2 dentist who joined his father’s practice. They had the business valued when he joined so they would know exactly how much value the G2 brought into the business when it was time for transition planning.

» Be vocal. You must let your boss or the G1 know what you need and expect and what motivates you. If you feel appreciation through words, gestures, awards or money, let them know. Additionally, be sure they are in a position to give that to you and understand what it means. If they do not provide this, let them know this and how much it means to you.  Come up with a plan for how they can deliver what you need.

Being vocal also means understanding expectations. You must speak up, because your joining the agency is now shifting the G1’s comfort zone. The G1 might not want to admit it, but if you really are passionate about your work, you will ask legitimate questions, question the way the G1 has done business and at times make the G1 uncomfortable.


» Be observant. On Day 1, you are not expected to change the entire company; in fact, they do not want you to. Most of your new co-workers do not want change. So observe how things are done, politely ask why things are done that way and, if you figure out a better way, approach the right person at the right time with your ideas.

» Be patient. When you first join an agency, you might want to start working on a million different things. But you must choose what you believe is important, be willing to be the point person and be sure to follow through. Although it can be difficult, the G1 is often resistant to change. This does not mean you have to wait years for change or improvement. The G1 will want your input, but be sensitive about their feelings and needs as well.

» Find your passion. Your passion might not be sales — it could be in areas such as illustrations or operations. But once you find your passion, pursue it with all you have, and you will never “go to work,” because you truly will enjoy what you do. If you discover that the profession, office or position is not your passion, you owe it to yourself and the G1 to let them know so that each party can find the solution.

» Have a great attitude. You have to walk into the office with a sincere attitude. Too many G2s want to be in the business because they want to earn a good living, but their attitude destroys the culture of the company.  Of course, you have to work harder, follow the rules, continue to learn and help motivate others. The rest of the company, right or wrong, is looking at you on your first day to see whether you have what it takes to lead the organization. You want to give them something to believe in.

Having a great attitude also includes dressing professionally, carrying on appropriate conversations, doing your work to the best of your ability and following procedures. No one owes you anything because your family name is on the door. You must represent the agency just as the G1 and rest of the staff have, and continue to do.

» Put things in writing. Once you have found your passion and you begin to find success, have a conversation with the G1. Be specific about your timeline, your expectations and your goals. You also should list important benchmarks such as compensation changes, ownership changes, etc. Make sure you put these in writing and review them regularly.


Danny O’Connell is CEO of Next Level Insurance Agency, a Dallas-based agency specializing in employee benefits, executive benefits and retirement. Danny may be contacted at danny.ocon[email protected]

Danny O’Connell is CEO of Next Level Insurance Agency, a Dallas-based agency specializing in employee benefits, executive benefits and retirement. Danny may be contacted at [email protected] danny.o'[email protected].

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