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Working in the family business

Would you ever work in a business with your partner, sibling, parent, or best friend? If you’re anything like me, you like the idea of building something you care about with someone you care about, but worry it will snap the relationship or suck the joy right out of it.

I spoke to four owners of successful family businesses to find out how they keep a happy, healthy working relationship with their closest peeps. Here is what they had to say…


Own your area

Work to each other’s strengths and find the lines of separation between roles and accountabilities. Caz Ingersole is the youngest of three siblings who run Swimwear Galore, an impressive swimwear business that includes seven retail stores in Victoria and an online store. In this family business, each sibling owns his or her own department.

“We go to each other for advice and to bounce ideas off, but ultimately we make our own decisions, “says Caz, who runs marketing, while sister Kelly leads buying and retail, and brother Andy acts as CEO, managing finances and expansion. “There is little cross over for us, which is helpful in a family environment because we all have our own egos and own need to contribute. If we all worked on the same stuff it wouldn’t go as well.”




Earn your stripes

For Ashley Ross of Ross & Associates, an accounting firm Ashley took over from his dad and now runs with his sister, the key to gaining credibility was acquiring the relevant corporate experience.

“Getting experience before joining the family business was a big one for dad and a bigger one for me,” he explains. “I never wanted to go straight from university to the family business so I spent six years at Grant Thornton before moving across.” For Ashley, that helped him understand what went on in a regular workplace environment, which was to not expect special treatment just because he was the son of the boss.


Respect each other’s roles at work

For families and friends who work together, it is important to respect each other’s roles and authority within the hierarchy. Adam and Jacqui Hilton, who started Melbourne media agency Noisy Beast, make their partnership possible by sharing opinions but ultimately respecting that Adam, as managing director, has final say.

“We always listen to each others’ opinion,” says Jacqui. “Adam respects when I have input and makes me feel valued. Sometimes he makes decisions I don’t agree on but will listen to.” However, all bets are off outside the work context: “It’s not like he leads our life in everything!”

Similarly, David and Mahi Cantillon have partnered over the last 25 years to run a thriving dental practice. David wears the mask and gloves, while Mahi runs reception. “Because we work together and we’re husband and wife, one person has to be more willing to be second-in-charge,” says Mahi. “David’s the boss so I follow the rules at work just like everybody else. At night, when I say I don’t want to talk about work anymore, he respects that.”




Socialise outside of work

When the workday is over, it’s important to reconnect as a family and enjoy time together. Caz is a big believer in nurturing these relationships. “We have a relationship outside of the business and genuinely enjoy time with each other,” she explains. “We look after each others kids and we’re so intertwined in each others’ lives.”

Mahi and David also make time for each other away from work. “It can become all-consuming and take over,” she says. “Make time for each other away from work as well – do things together that you find relaxing.”

What’s interesting is that different families have varying needs in regards to separation of work and home life. The Ingersoles for example, enjoy the work banter around the family BBQ: “We talk about work all the time,” says Caz. “We don’t separate work from family time. We love what we do.”

The trick is finding the balance that works for your family.


A special note of thanks to Caz, Ashley, Jacqui and Mahi for all sharing their personal experiences of working with family so openly and honestly xxx

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Stephanie Bown

Co-founder and managing director of workwellgroup, Stephanie Bown is an acclaimed performance coach with a passion for supporting organisations to achieve exceptional results by providing opportunities for their people to thrive. Her education in psychology, neuroscience and organisation dynamics, coupled with her accreditations in Human Synergistics tools and Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), allows her to bring keen insights and a pragmatic approach to nurturing an organisation’s greatest assets – its people and culture.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.