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A “family” contracting business gets complicated. Can you help Jim Taylor?

Each issue of Canadian Contractor now contains, as our final article of each magazine, a section called “What Would You Do?”  We are posting little case-studies – business problems, people problems, customer problems, building problems – that a small-business general contractor may run into.  The following “What Would You Do?” will appear in our next (July/August) issue of the magazine. 

Tell us what YOU would do, in this situation… and you could win a gas card.  See the RULES under the case study, for how to enter…

By Rob Koci

Jim Taylor always wanted to run a truly “family” contracting firm, so he was thrilled when his 24-year-old daughter Amy began dating Jeff, his recently-hired lead carpenter. Jeff had proven to be a great hire – and he could be trusted, which freed Jim up to find more business – which he quickly did. In fact, Jim soon had to hire Amy to come into the office three times a week to help out.

Things were working out great, until Jim found out that his daughter was a lot more serious about Jeff than Jeff appeared to be about Amy. At least that was the impression Jim was getting. The business was taking off, but possibly at the expense of a family train wreck…

Jim was the non-confrontational sort, and his first inclination was not to get involved. Trouble was, he was on the verge of signing a $250,000 reno with a client who insisted that Jeff be the site foreman. Just to make things more interesting, the client for this project was the family of Jeff’s former fiancée (Amy did not know).

Maybe it was time for Jim to say something – but to whom? And what should he say?

Should Jim…

  1. Say nothing, and let the potential heartbreak sort itself out?
  2. Tell his daughter his suspicions about Jeff?
  3. Confront Jeff with his suspicions?
  4. Lay some personal ground rules for both, without revealing his suspicions?
  5. Decline the job?


We want you to pick the answer, above, that is closest to what you would do. It may not match your own preferred solution, but we will pick a single winner by random draw from among the best answers (as judged, undemocratically, by Rob and Steve!). If you want to give us an Option Number 6, please feel free. Please email your answers to… with “What Would You Do?” in the subject line.





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Rob Koci is the publisher of Canadian Contractor magazine. 647 407 0754
22 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. # 1
    right now it is only suspicion. Some guys don’t show emotion very well. Also should really keep business and personal stuff separate.

  2. #4
    He should be avoiding getting involved in their relationship at all, as it could pose some issues down the road. He needs to make it clear to both of them that as long as they both perform their jobs satisfactorily, they will both keep their jobs, and if their personal relationship interferes with work he will not consider them to be performing their jobs satisfactorily. Dad and Boss shouldn’t be involved in their personal relationship any further.

  3. #4
    If Jim really wants a family minded business, he’s going to have to get good at delicately and respectfully navigating complex relationships with grace. There is no such thing as separation of church and state here. He owns the business and wants all the parties to be happy and productive. Jim is going to have to step up and helm the ship. Good Luck Jim!

  4. #4, I agree with Sarah, the ground rule scenario should cover any tensions or conflicts that might arise, job performance and professionalism are the keys here.

  5. Option 4
    Lay some personal ground rules for both, without revealing his suspicions

  6. #4
    Business is Business. Employees get treated the same no matter who their dad is or who they are dating. Everyone needs to leave their personal lives at home and work like professionals.

  7. Option # 4 – Definitely lay some ground rules – the pros of having Jeff work for the company are many while personal relationships are always unpredictable.

  8. Option 6

    Get professional help to carefully think your way through this very important problem. Business coaches can often bring clarity to this type of dilemma and better prepare you for any outcome. If you cannot afford one for something this important then please get out of business!

  9. Option # 4

    Always need ground rules with regards to a new employee : family or not
    Business is business , be professional .

  10. #3 Confront Jeff, let him know your concerns, ask what his intentions are and then remove your daughter from the business if need be………….

  11. It is only a suspicion that Jeff isn’t as serious, so my first inclination is #3, but confrontation is never good.

    I go with #4.

    As Michael Corleone says to Sonny, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”

    Lay down the ground rules for conduct at work and leave it at that.

  12. 4…. I run a family business. You must keep personal out of your business
    decisions……especially if Jeff is as good as described.

  13. #4 – i know firsthand that it is difficult to deal with family in the work place. we set the rules early and maybe bent them from time to time but never broke them. Business sometimes means hard decissions.

  14. I say #4.
    Business atmosphere should be kept on the professional level. Work and play do not mix. I heard of one couple that were both working in the family business and they set an agreement to keep things professional at work. there was a set of train tracks halfway between home and work. the side of the train tracks they were on determined what atmosphere they had to work at. the home side was the personal relationship and the work side of the tracks was professional. so as soon as they crossed the tracks on the way to work they would be start referring to each other professionally so by the time they got to work they were already in professional mode.

  15. Most definitely # 4. All personal contacts that have an effect on the job are required to be open to discussion. What if it were his ex-wife? Would he be in a conflict of interest situation? He should be representing the company first and personal interests much later in the job!! if he does not understand then Jim must decline the job as there are no winners here!

  16. #6. Lay some personal ground rules for both, wit revealing suspicions

  17. #4 is the closest. If you’re serious about operating a business everything is always on the table. Even more so if it’s a family business.

  18. #6, Jim should take the job and pay his lawyer to prepare the contract. The contract will not be contingent on who the foreman is. Jim stays in control and can dismiss Jeff or Amy without his job falling apart. With regard to Jeff and Amy, babysitting Jeff’s moral character is not Jim’s job. It would be better for Jeff to hop the fence without Amy for greener pastures now than to do it ten years and 2 kids later.

  19. I pick number 4

  20. Option #4 Hands down for me as well. Once the plan is in place, everything else should work itself out.

  21. As the “daughter” of the founder in our organization I have actually been in the Jeff and Amy position many times with my poor father in Jim’s . What my father did in the beginning was similar to #4 — though he did this with me well before I walked into the shop for my first day as a summer student. And he included the father/daughter relationship in it, insisting I call him by his first name at work as otherwise I would never succeed. It helped a lot over the years and I had some heart break and I broke some hearts but now 15+ years later most of the guys are still around and those who are not did not leave because of our relationships. Today my husband works at the company and we know that no matter what happens in our life at home we will be at Matcom for our full careers. We keep work and home seperate and admit “conflicts” if there is conversations about each other. At some point you have to realize that business is more than just your family it is about all the employees families and you always have to look at what is best for the most families!

  22. Perhaps a mix of 3 and 4 would be in order. Jim should not confront him about his “suspicions” but he should definitely confront him about the potential conflict of interest. It’s easy to say business is business, but unfortunately this business is based on relationships, and because of the length of the transactions suspicions and bad feelings can easily undermine a deal. Open communication and accountability are the pillars of any small business, relationship, or family. Ground rules need to be laid and lines of communication need to be opened. Suspicions cause people to build stories in their own heads and if they are not dealt with they will fester and build until they explode.

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