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Grown Kids Fall into the Parent Trap


As the job market has tightened and the unemployment rate hits 9.4%, the highest in 25 years, some of the city's young professionals find themselves growing closer to their families. Much closer. As in, sitting at the next desk.

“My dad and I work out of the same trailer right on the job site,” says Joanna Glass, a recent Syracuse graduate who had planned on working in the wine industry. Instead, she's taking the early-morning train with her dad out to Queens, to the construction site of a jewelry store, where she spends her day in an office trailer helping coordinate architects and contractors.

Ms. Glass had been applying for jobs at wine marketers and retailers, and vineyard tasting rooms since January, unsuccessfully. When a position as an office assistant opened up at her dad's project-management company in June, she took it, hard hat in hand.

“I'm so grateful that I have this job,” says the 21-year-old, who is still trying to break into the wine industry. “But it's not life-sustaining. I'm giving myself six to nine months.”

The recession is frustrating ambitions and putting dreams on hold. It's also pushing some young workers into situations they never expected and were even trying to avoid: working for their parents.

For some, it's a safe place to tread water (Ms. Glass' project, for example, is expected to continue through 2010), but for others, it can be professional purgatory. For the parent business owners, it can stir a sense of pride—or a sense of obligation that mayn stress family relationships.

“We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of kids who can't find a job or have lost their job, coming back to the family business,” says Henry Hutcheson, a principal at consultancy ReGeneration Partners, which specializes in family business management. “Under normal conditions, Junior would've kept his job and continued on a career path, and Dad would probably sell the business. But now kids are out there—highly qualified, highly educated—without jobs. Where are they going to go?”


Alberic Paradiso, 36, had spent years trying to get out of the family business his father had founded—International Tool Manufacturing Corp., a maker of drill parts in Queens—by the time he graduated from Columbia Business School last year. He was seeking a new start in banking or consulting.

“Of course, by the time I graduated,” he says, “the economy was in the sinker.” So, it was back to the drill-bit business.

“It's like in The Godfather,” he jokes. “Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in.”

Emotional stakes can be higher in a family enterprise, notes Manhattan therapist Dr. Jayme Renee Albin. Many of her patients are young adults in their late 20s and 30s. Over the past year or so, she says, she's seen a marked increase in people reporting anxiety and stress about whether or not to return to the family business. “It can lead to a tremendous loss of self-esteem, especially if they feel they can't get a job anywhere else.”

It can be tricky for parents, too. Because everybody's got all their eggs in this one basket, Mr. Hutcheson says, “the psychodynamics are very heavy.”

But the decision isn't always fraught with anxiety. Demetrios Yatrakis, a 26-year-old business school student, had been planning on working in the green building and renewable energy field starting in May. But he was drawn back into the family real estate business. “I saw there was too much opportunity in the family business to do something else.”

That's because the family business is in distressed real estate. Mr. Yatrakis' father, Peter, started Granite International Management during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. During that time, he acquired a few buildings in default in Harlem and the East Village.

Young Mr. Yatrakis figures it's now time for him to make his mark. “As the economy worsened, I thought it would be a great time to expand the business,” he says.

There's been so much student interest lately in family business management that Columbia Business School last year established a Family Business Network. It already has 200 members and counting, says Mayra Reyes, associate director of Columbia's Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center.

Dik Glass, president of MorseHarris Consulting and Joanna's father, admits he's thought about what it would be like if one of his kids took over the business. “It's gone through my head a few times,” he says.

But he's under no illusions. “I expect Joanna will probably work here as long as I have this project. But if she finds a great opportunity, she is welcome to leave at any time.”

Sometimes a temporary job can change someone's mind for good.

Recent University of Rhode Island graduate Andrew Solomon figured he could find a banking job here. No such luck. After a few weeks, his father broached the topic of working at the executive recruiting firm he'd started in 1986.

The 23-year-old was hesitant. “I didn't want him to think he was bailing me out,” says Mr. Solomon, who is currently living at home.

His father, Paul, had his own set of concerns. “I didn't want Andrew coming into the business because it was easy,” he says.

The younger Mr. Solomon started working at his dad's Solo Management in July while continuing the search for a “real job.” But after just three weeks, he found he actually liked it. Co-workers offered him great feedback. The learning curve is steep, to be sure. “But I thought, "Man, if I could be good at this ...' “

Earlier this month, Mr. Solomon abandoned his job search. “I'm not going to waste my father's time,” he says. “I'm giving this a real shot.”

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