Turning in-laws into assets

All in the family
/ 10:38 PM December 05, 2013

Raised with different values and viewpoints, in-laws did not grow up in your family. Last week, we saw how this outsider status can make in-laws the outlaws in the family business (fambiz).

But the fact that in-laws did not grow up in your family also means that they don’t share sibling rivalries, perceptions of favoritism, resentment between parents and children. In short, in-laws do not share the psychological baggage of family members who have never lived apart.


This is one reason why in-laws can become assets in the fambiz.

Not ‘intrigero’


Sisters Julia and Maria (not their real names) are heirs to the food fambiz founded by their mother in the 1960s. They lost their father early and they were not close to each other when they were growing up.

“Maybe because of our age difference,” says Maria. “Julia is five years older. I shared secrets with my friends rather than with my sister.”

Their only brother worked in the United States after college and despite the pleas of their mother, he has no plans of coming back.  So the fambiz is now run by the two sisters.

“Just because she is older, Julia expects me to obey her in everything,” says Maria. “But I won’t give in if I think her decision is wrong. When we were kids, I used her second-hand books and hand-me-down clothes, which I understand, because money is tight. Julia got used to getting her way.”

“Now this is business!” Maria cries. “We don’t back down. We fight. We don’t talk for days. Mom says she is getting too old to be the referee. Her dying wish is that the two of us would get along.”

Help came from an unexpected quarter: Their husbands. Julia’s husband used to work in a bank while Maria’s husband was a former architect. But when the fambiz grew, more help was needed, and the matriarch invited first the banker, and then two years after, the architect, to join.

“We had no choice,” says Maria. “Most of our people are professionals, but my mother prefers that family takes the key positions. My mother had a serious talk with Julia and her husband about expectations and rewards and he decided to try it out. It turned out well, then my mother talked to my husband. So far, so good.”


Julia and Maria are both in operations, but their husbands do not work under or with them. They handle other areas (finance for the banker, marketing for the architect). Every week, the family members meet to update each other, and this is where the in-laws have proven invaluable.

“My husband and my brother-in-law are even-tempered,” says Maria. “When Julia and I fight, they calm us down. They remind us that this is a business which involves everyone, including them, so we should listen to each other. ”

Do the guys argue with each other? “Yes,” says Maria. “But they keep their cool, and they manage to work things out. Julia and I are lucky; our husbands are not intrigero. Maybe my mother can get her wish after all!”

Not outlaws

“My daughter-in-law has to earn our trust before we invite her into our fambiz,” says a friend after I told her the story.  Fair enough, but I warned her not to begin with instant prejudice against her in-laws.

Capable in-laws with integrity and their spouses’ families’ interests at heart, can be tremendous assets. Treat them with respect and at the same time imbue them with the values of your family.

Cultural stereotypes, such as “A woman’s place is in the home, not the business” or “Don’t marry people of this ethnicity because they are only after your money” are narrow-minded and inflame sensitive situations.

In-laws can play an even stronger role when the third generation comes into play. Cousins need to work well together and their spouses, whether or not they work in the fambiz, can be a factor for collaboration or conflict.

“How can in-laws strengthen collaboration in the business if they have not been invited to share the family’s values and aspirations?” says US organizational psychologist Ivan Lansberg. “How can they play a constructive role if they are treated as meddling outlaws?  How can they teach the next generation about the family’s values if they themselves have not learned what those values are?”

“Most families get the in-laws they deserve,” says Lansberg. “If they hold up their end of the relationship, accepting their share of responsibility for whatever tensions arise instead of blaming in-laws for their own emotional entanglements, they will surely have fewer in-law problems.”

Tune in next Friday when we feature one of the top plastics fambiz in the country.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Advisers of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center.  Her book “Successful Family Businesses” is available at the University Press (tel. 4266001 loc 4613, email [email protected])  Email the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: assets, Business, column, family business, in-laws, queena n. lee-chua
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