Young Owner, Old Manager: Who Wins in the End?


Questions… we get Questions

One of our readers, Anant, posted the following after reading our article from August 2008 titled The First Time Manager Dilemma, How Do You Gain Respect?:

hi, i am facing a similar problem as mentioned above with one of my older employees, the only difference is that i am the owner of my company.

Last year i joined my father’s company after finishing my engineering and have started to handle the correspondence and marketing of the company.

Initially i thought because i was a new, they treated me as like a new kid on the block and would probably fade out once i am long enough with the organization.

Most of them did change, apart from our general manager. He still thinks he is an authority over me. I didn’t mind his reactions till the time recently when my father had gone out for an industrial trip. He had asked me to get some work done before he comes, which were like level 1 jobs and could easily be done on the phone/personally meeting, nothing laborious. Its been almost 3 days since i told him and he has still not been able to complete the task. Apart from this whenever i tell him something he looks at me, giving me that expression “why is he telling me? who is he to tell me?”

This behavior of his has actually ticked me off. Kindly give me a solution to handle such kind of employee – Anant, February 8, 2009

Young man (I’m going to assume you’re a young man, as Anant means “bliss” in Hindi and is traditionally a male name), it’s time for you and your GM to face several tough realities:

  1. Every generation gets overtaken by the next;
  2. Youth is the only trait a manager cannot learn;
  3. You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar;
  4. Blood is thicker than water;
  5. Money is thicker than blood; and
  6. Your written communication skills are horrendous.

1. Every Generation Gets Overtaken by the Next

It’s the circle of life my friend: It’s exciting and great when you’re young; and it sucks when you’re old. Your father’s general manager is having a tough time facing this fact… that’s expected. Your job is to make sure that you maximize short and long term profits for your father, not to make the GM feel good about himself.

If he fails to grasp this fact, he should be shown the door.

That said, you and your father’s company might be better served if you followed the advice in point number three, below.

2. Youth is the Only Trait a Manager Cannot Learn

This fact is likely killing your GM from the inside out. It eats at him everyday, and his own fear of being replaced is going to force him to do one of two things: 1) seek other employment (not likely); or 2) go into passive-aggressive mode when dealing with you (highly likely).

Until you came along, the GM was your father’s right-hand man. Today, he sees you as the greatest threat to his existence (see point number one, above). Following the advice given in point number three might help make the situation more tolerable for you (and the GM). If it fails, it’s probably time to show him the door. (Do you see a pattern emerging?)

3. You Can Attract More Flies with Honey than Vinegar

Of course, you can attract the most flies with dog shit, but we’ll forget that for a moment, because it doesn’t really fit with this whole analogy.

I think the best way to introduce this concept is to have the great Dalton (Patrick Swayze) from Road House explain it:

All you have to do is follow three simple rules.

One: never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.

Two: take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.

And three: be nice.

…until it’s time to not be nice.

Generally every human can figure out Dalton’s numbers one and two on their own. Dalton’s tip number three, “be nice,” takes some practice.

Anant, if you want to be nice, then it’s time to become “The New Anant.” The New Anant is a guy that loves everyone and everything. He smiles are everyone (especially his GM), and nothing ever gets him down. If you become The New Anant, you are going to be so nice to the general manager that people are going to think the two of you are dating. In fact, your father may become jealous of your relationship with the GM.

Seriously, If you want to get the most out of the general manager, you need to hang on his every word. You should ask his advice on every topic (where it makes sense) and you should strive to make him the hero at every turn. If you do everything in your power to make him look good, he will (usually) work hard to prove you right. At worst, you’ll have made it incredibly hard for him to treat you poorly – his subconscience won’t allow him to be an ass; just as your subconscience will drive you to eventually like and even respect him. (If nothing else, you’ll begin to see the world as he sees it, which will give you great insight into how to manage him better.)

If this fails, show him the door.

4. Blood is Thicker than Water

At the end of the day, you can always tell your father to fire him. After all, you’re blood and he’s just an employee. This strategy is great provided a) you are ready to lead the company as the new general manager; and b) this GM really wasn’t that effective.

5. Money is Thicker than Blood

This is where things get sticky for your dad. If the GM is strong and delivers value for the company – and the two of you cannot get along – then it’s time for Anant to find a new job.

Blood is pretty thick, but money is a whole lot thicker.

Face this reality right away and begin “working” for the GM if he’s any good. If he stinks, refer to number four, above.

6. Your Written Communication Skills are Horrendous

Seriously, Anant, I know you were writing informally when you posted a comment on this blog, but it’s important to always communicate clearly and correctly in business. Business associates (like the GM), subordinates, customers and leaders of other companies will respect you more if your written communication skills are always strong.

The good news is that you already form strong ideas, you just need to put them into a written form properly. Start by writing everything in Microsoft Word first, then running the spelling and grammar checkers before you send any correspondence. Next, you may want to read our posts covering email etiquette. There might be some overall business writing tips you can take from these.

It sounds like you’re well on your way to becoming a great business leader: you’ve clearly identified the major hurdles in your business and you’ve sought advice on how to rectify them – that takes guts and shows your leadership – congratulations. Please keep us posted, we’re dying to know how things work out for you.