Why millennials are joining their fathers in business

Starting up

8 September 2017

The under-35s – or the millennial generation – are often portrayed as ‘digital natives’, glued to devices that link them to social connections spanning the globe.

However, our research shows that surprising numbers are being inspired to stay close to home and keep the family business going.

Last year, we spoke to over 400 UK small business bosses and more than 350 tradespeople1 and found that 15% of young owners had taken over the family firm, compared to just 6% of older owners – and they’re bringing plenty of benefits with them.

Inspiration and innovation

Another millennial stereotype is that they’re job-hoppers. One survey found 45% of employers expected recent graduates to stay less than two years, but the reality isn’t quite so simple. While Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey confirmed they’re more likely to switch jobs for new opportunities, it also concluded that it’s part of a wider search for meaningful work with a company that shares their values.

Rather than just jumping between jobs early on, however, many millennials had a plan all along. PwC’s 2016 survey of family business leaders found that 70% of those about to inherit a family business had worked outside the family firm to gain experience and earn the respect of their dads before joining them.

So it seems that entrepreneurial parents have already inspired the next generation to take on their mantle. They’re just encouraging them to pick up the training and experience necessary to make a success of it – and the stats suggest they’re right to do so. An FT report revealed family-run businesses are great at creating innovative products and services, despite investing less than other companies in research and development.

Reaping the rewards

Father-son businesses have other benefits too, and the building trades are enjoying them more than most. Research has found that 26% of people in the trade learned their skills from their father, rising to 45% of tradesmen aged 18-35, so clearly it’s a trend on the up. Hardly surprising that 76% of those we spoke to said they’d recommend their trade to a young person starting out today.

This popularity shows how important the thumbs up from dad is, but it also points to one particular positive both the building trade and family businesses have in common: stability. As 32-year old Chris Stephens, who followed his dad and granddad into plumbing firm W Stephens & Sons, told us: “Once you’re trained, you have independence, a solid income and a trade that will always be needed... if you’re adaptable and treat your customers well, you will have a business that can survive everything that’s thrown at it.”

Building for the future

With more stability in the short-term and innovative ideas for the long-term, father-child businesses are going from strength to strength. What's more, millennials are keen to build on their parents’ solid foundations.

PWC's survey found that 88% of respondents want to do something special to leave their own stamp on the company. Fortunately, dear old dad is always understanding – probably more so than your average boss. According to Deloitte’s 2016 report into next-generation family businesses, 61% of the parental owners are well aware of the need for innovation. It’s this long-term perspective, experts say, that helps family businesses stand the test of time.

This Father’s Day, we’re looking at businesses where fathers have inspired sons and daughters to take on the family trade. Take a look at our Small Business Story series where we speak to Chris Stephens of W Stephens & Sons about his inspiration and hopes for his own son in the future. 

1AXA survey of 400 UK small business bosses and more than 350 tradespeople conducted between February and April 2017