Brenda Cook’s new book The Entrepreneur’s Family: Seeking Balance, Recovery, and Growth is a groundbreaking look at how an entrepreneur’s passion and drive can have both positive and detrimental effects upon a family. Cook reveals that while the media is full of praise for entrepreneurship and the belief that the entrepreneur can have it all, both wealth and free time, thus benefiting their family-that belief is frequently a myth or at least distorted. Entrepreneurs often spend little quality time with their spouse, children, and grandchildren; may be more passionate about their business than family time; and must make decisions about whether and to what degree to involve their family in the business. All these factors lead to family dynamics that have long-reaching effects on the entrepreneur’s children and even successive generations.
Cook, as an entrepreneur’s daughter, has witnessed these effects firsthand, and she skillfully and honestly shares how her father’s entrepreneurial drive affected her family in different ways, from her mother, who had almost no say in the family-owned businesses except when it was convenient to list properties in her name, to her older brothers who ended up taking prominent roles as successors to their father, and to Cook herself, who was marginalized and nearly edged out by her brothers once her father was no longer able to run the business, despite his intention for all three of his children to have equal roles in the businesses’ operations. Add to this that her father had international businesses, one in Canada and one in the United States-in short, one for each of Cook’s brothers and none for Cook, and you have a true recipe for family dynamics reminiscent of the Ewing family of Dallas fame.
While Cook may, at times, have gotten the short end of the stick in her family, it also opened her eyes to how entrepreneurship influences family dynamics. Rather than be disgruntled, she entered academia and research, which allowed her to explore best practices for entrepreneurs to consider in relation to their family, especially their young offspring. In the book, she explores the decisions not only of entrepreneurs but of their children, when young adults, to become involved in the continuation of the entrepreneur’s business. Her father’s sense of manifest destiny to further his businesses played an important role in her analysis of family dynamics.
Cook does not limit the discussion and examples to her own family. She went out and interviewed numerous entrepreneurs and their offspring, most of whom were in some way involved in the family business. The case studies provide many examples of both positive and negative ways that entrepreneurs seek to include their children in the family business, or occasionally, exclude them, often so they have the opportunity to pursue their own individual interests.
A key part of the book is simply awareness of how the entrepreneurial mindset affects family members. Cook admits that for most of her career, she did not view her skills and attitudes toward work in relation to her upbringing as an entrepreneur’s child. Even though she chose not to stay involved in the operation of the family business but to work in other organizations, she found that the family footprint of entrepreneurship made her views and actions different from those of colleagues whose families were not entrepreneurial.
Communication skills are another big factor Cook explores. Entrepreneurs are often driven and focused. On a simple level, Cook’s father was not concerned about public opinion and did not let it interfere with his business pursuits. He was also always engaged in some pursuit to the point where he would not stop to chat and be friendly, but simply tip his hat, smile, and move on to where he had to be or the thing he had to do. On a more serious level, Cook learned how to improve her own communication skills so she could transition from an entrepreneurial/business background to working within an organization where she had to be part of a team. Her brothers, who never worked outside the family business, by comparison, did not have to develop these skills since they were the owner’s sons and later the owners, and consequently, always in positions of giving orders rather than receiving them or having to work as a team.
One key benefit of The Entrepreneur’s Family is how it will cause entrepreneurs to think about their roles as parents and how their entrepreneurial drive affects their children. Cook goes into detail about tools for stewardship for the entrepreneur to pass on to their children as they grow up within and potentially into the business. She also discusses how children can identify and construct their own identities separate from the business to honor their personalities and energy and find forms of self-expression outside the family business.
Cook’s assessment of entrepreneurship and its effects on family members ultimately concludes that both advantages and disadvantages result from growing up in an entrepreneurial family. Those disadvantages are also opportunities for personal growth, as Cook learned. Her explorations here offer opportunities for others to learn to do better. Either way, Cook is grateful for the experiences she had, stating, “many exciting and inspirational moments occur when growing up with an entrepreneur. These moments are not to be dismissed because they are totally unique and important to developing your persona.”
Ultimately, Cook’s purpose is reflected in her subtitle. Her book offers an opportunity for those who grew up or are growing up in an entrepreneurial home to seek recovery, if necessary, as well as balance and growth in both their personal and business lives.
The Entrepreneur’s Family is truly a tour-de-force among business books. It is one of those books you may not have noticed was missing from your bookshelf, but once you read it, you will find yourself thinking, “Why did no one write this book years ago?” Thankfully, Brenda Cook has, and once you read it, you will find it life-changing.