Dear Coach: Should I Walk Away from My Family Business?

March 15, 2023   |   Julie Diamond

Dear Coach, 

My family has been running a business for 100 years. My grandfather started it, and each generation has taken the mantle. For the last 15 years, I’ve been president & CEO.

Last year, we got bought by a large company, and now I report to the CEO of the parent company—and let’s just say, it’s been a shock. I feel like I’ve lost all my power and decision-making abilities. On top of that, my new boss is very smart but incredibly obnoxious and terrible to work for. 

Our family business has always prided itself on a people-first mentality; we’re all family, and we love to treat our employees as such. And while I can still exert influence on the people who report to me, I’m feeling discouraged, disrespected, and disposable reporting to someone who has such a different set of values. 

Do I walk away from my own family business? Do I stay and go along with the new order of things—or do I stay and try to effect change? 


Frustrated Family Guy

First, let’s unpack this. Your question tells us that:

  • You’re having an identity crisis. Who you were is no longer who you are, because of the changing context.
  • It’s a big historical change—your family’s legacy and an entire century of doing business one way have suddenly changed. Understandably, this can be very disquieting.
  • As your history changes, so too does your future. You must really think long and hard about what comes next.

So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? A few thoughts:

  • In short, you lost power. Not just your positional power, but also your personal and informal power. The cozy family business got subsumed, so now you’re both lower in positional authority, but also no longer an insider in the family business. 
  • Your personal power has lessened in this new role because the way you’re being managed has shaken your confidence and sense of self-efficacy.

What’s the Solution?

To move forward—whether you stay or go—you must say goodbye to the past. You can grieve, mourn, and celebrate the amazing thing your family built, and then take some good solid time to decide what your future will be. 

How about you  imagine your future and think about:

  • Where is my learning, and where does my learning path want to take me? 
  • Does it come from moving on and doing something totally new? 
  • Does it come from being in a system where I can lead and follow, and learn from other people and ideas I wasn’t exposed to previously? 
  • Does it come from staying and focusing on making my division a very successful part of the business? 

Going through this exercise will give you the power you need—the power you had before the company was bought—because it will give you purpose, choice, and agency over your own career. From here, whatever you do is a win, because you’re in contact with your power instead of just succumbing to your new set of circumstances. 

Change is hard and especially complicated when your personal and professional lives are so intertwined. If you can take the time to go inward and focus on yourself and your future in a way that still honors your family, you will be back to a place of power and peace.


Each month we answer questions we often get from the leaders we work with and unpack how at the end of the day, every problem is a power problem. If you have an issue you just can’t solve, get in touch! We’d love to answer your questions in an upcoming Dear Coach post. Find us at [email protected], or on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter.