(Ellie, giving advice for TheStar.com, tackles family business succession)

The question

My father has solely operated his own business for 30 years, providing a comfortable lifestyle. As he nears retirement, my older brother and I have both shown interest in the business. Accordingly, I left my profession of teaching six years ago, apprenticed, and became a licensed technician in my father’s industry. However, he feels he can’t choose between two sons.

Unless we come to an agreement, he’ll sell to a third party. My brother barely finished high school and openly expresses disregard for the value of education.

He has zero business experience and brings next to nothing to the table. He never seems to keep jobs for very long. Yet he’d rather see my father sell the business to someone else, than to me.

But I’d rather he sell it to my brother than someone else. I’d happily accept that outcome if I weren’t afraid that he’d run it into the ground. He’d need to hire a good (not cheap) licensed technician to do the actual work, thus drastically reducing the bottom line revenue.

If I were to take over, the day-to-day operations would run almost identically as before. My brother’s proposing that we split everything 50/50, with my position in the shop, while he’ll be in the air-conditioned office, answering the phone. Currently, I work as a technician elsewhere, earning decently but with no pension. It was my dream not just to take over my father’s business, but also to work with him.

I feel that if my brother isn’t able to accept that it’d be a better opportunity for me than him, and allow my father to accept it, and then I’ll always have a tremendous amount of resentment toward both of them. I’d almost want nothing to do with my brother ever again.

I’ve expressed my concern to my father and he just really doesn’t want to be in the middle, let alone choose one of us over the other. I can’t sleep and feel very stressed. I just don’t know what to do. Should I give up and let my brother ruin this opportunity for me?

There’s no reasoning with him verbally. Any suggestions on how to get through to him?

The Better Choice

My sympathies go to your father. He’s worked for 30 years to provide for two sons, and now is given an almost Solomon-like decision to give new life to one, deny the other, against the threat of losing one or both. This is a sad tale of two brothers who have long not accepted each other’s differences. The business is the pot of gold you both seek — you, for yourself, alone; he, with what you believe is a ruinous plan.

Your father’s not “in the middle.” He’s the wise one being pushed to a logical conclusion: sell, live on what he needs of the proceeds and leave each of you an equal share of what’s left when he dies. There is, however, a different approach: You could get to know your brother anew and see if, in the couple of years till your father retires, there’s a way to work together.

This would require both of you to shuck some long-held prejudices and judgmental attitudes about each other. Some very successful businessmen never went beyond high-school education. Your brother may be good in some areas the business could use, e.g. drawing more customers.

Also, if he’s an owner/partner, he might get interested in taking some courses that benefit profits, such as marketing, sales, etc.

Tip of the day: Adult children must accept parents’ rightful efforts at fairness in dividing their assets.

Email Ellie at ellie@thestar.ca or visit her website, ellieadvice.com. Follow @ellieadvice.

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