This article orginally published June 14, 2013.
For some fathers, allowing their son to take the lead role in a company they founded may be a difficult pill to swallow, but Rick Platt says watching his 28-year-old son excel as CEO of a company he created has been a source of pride. Together, Rick and Jeff Platt have grown their indoor trampoline park, Sky Zone, from one Las Vegas location to 37 locations across North America. The father-son duo speaks candidly about the challenges of running a business together and offer advice for other entrepreneurial families.
Family dynamics mean heightened confrontation, but also greater loyalty. “There are certain liberties taken because he’s my son,” says Rick. Although he expects a non-family member would be more cautious about engaging in disputes with the company’s founder, Rick also sees a clear benefit to having his son as the face of his company — elevated loyalty. “He’s going to go the extra mile because he considers it his business, too,” says Rick.
As a young CEO and the founder’s son, Jeff faces additional pressure to prove himself worthy of his role. “I don’t ever want to be in my position because my dad owns the company,” he says. “I want to be in my position because I’m the right person.”
Jeff and Rick Platt offer four suggestions that have helped them manage the challenges of running a father-son business:
1. Establish a board to manage conflicts.
“One of the smartest things we did is put a board in place,” says Jeff. A board allows for an independent voice that puts the company ahead of pride when emotions between the father and son run high. “When we don’t agree on something, we can trust and rely on their outside expertise to help us make informed, sound strategic decisions,” says Jeff.
2. Play to your strengths.
The Platts credit their business success with knowing and respecting each other’s strengths. “My dad is a visionary type. He can see where we should be going and where we want to take things in a couple of years,” says Jeff. “But he’s not necessarily the one who’s going to be day to day executing the plan.” Jeff’s enthusiasm for sports and hands-on approach make him better equipped to handle the daily operations of the company.
3. Don’t bring your family relationship into the office.
Viewing each other as business partners instead of father and son may be uncomfortable at first, but Jeff argues removing relationship labels from the office is necessary to efficiently run a business. “We had to decide, do we want to run a ‘family business’ or do we want to run a business?” he says. Making decisions based on the best interests of the company, rather than what will make father or son happy is what has made Sky Zone successful.
4. Spend time together outside of the office.
While the Platts try to spend time together on off-business hours, avoiding work-related conversation is a challenge. To avoid talking shop, they play sports together. “[When you’re playing], you’re focused on the sport. Otherwise, if you’re sitting having dinner, the conversation tends to turn to the business,” says Rick.