There are two sets of families within every family business: 1) the relatives including parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, and in-laws; and 2) the long-time employees that have spent a vast majority of their life working in the business. Somewhere in the sea of employees is “The Old-Timer”.
The Old-Timer comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, they share key traits: 1) they’ve been with the business for a bunch of years; 2) they have a respectful relationship with the Family Business Leader; and 3) they’re grumpy…really grumpy.
The Old-Timer started working in the business before the next generation family members were born. They watched the next generation, who they refer to as “Kid”, “Junior” or “Rump-Brain”, grow up in parallel with the family business success. While nobody else gives The Old-Timer credit for the business’ success, The Old-Timer really believes it couldn’t have happened with them.
For a young family member, The Old-Timer is a friendly face when the Kid visits the family business. When the Kid gets his first job in the business, the Kid is usually assigned to The Old-Timer. The Kid and The Old-Timer share their grievances about the family, the family business and life. For many NxtGens, The Old-Timer is one of the first people they can have a discussion with who isn’t a teacher and resides outside of their class.
As the Kid matures, The Old-Timer is also going through a transition: 1) The Old-Timer’s role in the organization is getting minimized as the Family Business grows bigger and the relationship with the owner decreases; 2) The Old-Timer knows that the NxtGen family member will quickly advance past regardless of their time spent or ability; and 3) The Old-Timer gets grumpier.
It’s important to note that the overwhelming majority of family business employees are appreciative of the family business and relationship with the family. However, if you take a closer look at your business, you’ll find there’s an Old-Timer around somewhere.
John was The Old-Timer in our Family Business. He was one of the first salesman in our big and tall men’s clothing story. He was a terrible salesperson, so he was eventually put in charge of the stockroom which included receiving inventory, breaking it down for each store and packing the station wagon.
My first paying job was stockroom flunky so I spent weekends and summers hearing about the world according to John. He would complain about the business, my father and life. I was a 15-year old boy so I had issues with the business, my father and life.
John also taught me the shake-method of doing inventory. The shake-method consists of shaking the box instead opening it to count the number of size 58 tee-shirts in the box. As I got older, I realized the shake-method was emblematic of his view on life and should only be used when counting Size 58 tee-shirts. While I decided to leave the business, John stayed for many years including the sale of the business.
Karl strikes me as the likeliest candidate as The Old-Timer. Sometime in Season 2 during one of the many crises, Karl decided to order food. This is a classic Old-Timer type of move. During Episode 4, Logan assigns Shiv to fire watch the negotiations with Sandy and Stewey. Logan – “Karl is smart bastard but he likes to be liked”. When Shiv goes down to check on the negotiations both men fundamentally dismiss her. However, Karl appears to take a little more glee in dismissing her. He’s The Old-Timer.
SEASON 3; EPISODE 4 – THE OLD-TIMER (spoiler alert)
The episode starts off with Greg being summoned to the principal’s office for bad behavior. In this case, Logan is the principal, and his bad behavior is not signing on to the Joint Defense Agreement. Greg informs Kendall about the meeting but assures Kendall that he is a sturdy birdie. Greg is about as sturdy as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz and if you combine the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion you have a pretty good description of his character.
When Greg arrives at Logan’s home, he is warmly greeted and offered an alcoholic beverage. Logan hands Greg the drink and then the Joint Defense Agreement. Greg responds, “what’s it worth in the terms of the me of it all”. Eventually, Greg asks to go back to Parks where he can leverage his parks’ experience of throwing up into the chimpmunk costume. This still gives him more direct experience than Shiv has as being President Domestic Operations.
The episode’s main story line is set in motion by an emergency conference triggered at the request of Josh Aronson, an investor who holds 4% of Waystar. This makes Josh the Joe Manchin of Waystar Royco. Josh wants to bring Logan and Kendall together and has more than enough juice to make it happen. While the meeting was originally set up in town, Josh changes the location to his private island because his daughter isn’t well. Logan and Kendall take matching limos, to matching helicopters, to matching planes to get to the island.
Josh, who looks like he shops at Goodwill, greets them on the island. Within a short period of time, he recounts his $350 million loss and eventually gets to his main point. “You think I’m a dipshit who got lucky at the casino. You work for the shareholders, you work for me… I have a gun at your head.” If there’s any doubt of Josh’s leverage, it’s answered when the sick daughter is seen doing summersaults into the pool and Josh says she gotten better in the last hour.
Josh relishes watching the Roys wriggling on the hook as he tempts both of them with his loyalty. During lunch, Logan offers a tribute to Kendal. “He’s a good kid and I love him,” Logan says. “Maybe he’s the best one of all of them.” The comment, followed up silence, was very powerful.
After lunch, Josh takes them on a difficult trail back to the house. Logan has difficulty keeping up so Kendall stays behind with them. This provides special father-son time where they can rip into each other. The hike is too difficult for Logan so they end up needing a doctor. The end of episode shows Josh hugging Stewey so it feels like Josh got his pound of flesh.
Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.