First some background:

My parents are managing (CEO and CFO) a company of 400 employees. They have started it ages ago and they are its owners. It is not a huge multinational corporation, but it is relatively well known among people in the industry due to its wide presence and some interesting approaches. Because of the ownership and leadership structure my surname became quite identifiable in the business. In some instances this is the case also abroad (export accounts for most of the sales).

I had been educated to work in the same industry (several courses, certificates and an advanced degree). After completing grad school I have been employed there for three years in a non-executive position. One of the longterm goals is that I take the lead of the firm and continue the family business.

However, I have decided to leave the firm and to look for a new job to spend at least 5 years in other companies in the industry. There are many reasons for that, but just to name a few:

  • To gain work experience in some other company and another country. This should not read as “copy their ideas and steal customers”.
  • To expand my network.
  • To escape a work environment that has not been pleasant and not stimulating for me: despite my down to earth behavior and professionalism, my colleagues see me as a second CEO and behave to me as I am their manager (which I am not) and in the discussions they have a pretty distant and cold attitude, since they have a wrong impression that I will give my opinion to managers about their performance. Further, even my manager does not see me as his subordinate and refrains from giving me critical feedback. I guess this is unavoidable, and I believe it will not affect me once I reach a managing position.

There are many companies in this industry, which in my case I can classify into the following:

  • A. Companies that are directly competing with mine, and it is likely that they will reject me for fearing industrial espionage or they will find it as a prank that a guy like me wants to do such move.
  • B. The ones that are in the same business, but they are not directly competing (different geographic area or different customer segment).

My goal is to apply to companies in the B group, but I am concerned that my “pedigree” would hurt my application. I am not saying that they would necessarily reject me, but it would certainly be an interesting point they would consider when hiring. Further, if they hire me, it will also be important later when they will manage me (perhaps someone will consider excluding me from some R&D projects). Certainly, there are also possibilities to leverage my background (for example if they consider establishing a collaboration with my firm, or the fact that I know very well how such a firm operates), but I assume it’s rather a disadvantage.

I decomposed the companies in the group B into:

  • B1. Companies where managers know me from before or would easily realize that my family owns a similar company, so nothing to conceal here.
  • B2. Where my name and work experience would not be connected to this fact and would treat me just like any other candidate (which I prefer).

I don’t have an urge to mention this fact and at the time of the interview with B2 companies this background would not be known, but it might become evident after working there for some time and therefore seen differently. Further, during the interview they will probably ask me why I am leaving a situation of having a fine job in a fine company, and my sole reason is to gain a diverse experience that one day will help me to lead my own firm.

Should I mention right away to such companies that my family owns a potentially competing firm? If yes, how can I convince them that I am not there to steal their knowledge, clients, product ideas, and employees?

  • In cases such as these, I think the direct and honest approach spoken from the heart is always best. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 8:52
  • Ah, this question is ancient. Quite an annoyance on SO.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 15:42

5 Answers 5


There is nothing wrong with leaving a job to

gain a diverse experience that one day will help me to lead my own firm.

That would be a very appropriate thing to say when asked why you are leaving.

I think moving to another firm in the same industry will be problematic for you at this point in your career. If you tell them who you are, they will feel nervous about industrial espionage. You are currently working at your parent's firm and they will recognize the last name and feel even more nervous about you if you don't tell them. If they find out later that you lied and didn't tell them, you are likely to be fired.

If you go to work for them for a couple of years and go directly back to a management postion at your family firm and you push an idea is in any way related to something they were doing, it looks even worse to them and you could get sued.

This would not be as much of an issue if your family firm was not currently doing international business. But as it stands right now, just because they are not currently in competition doesn't mean it will remain that way. They might even see this as a signal that you are being sent to this differnt geographic area as a way to learn how business is done there before expanding in that direction.

Personally I would be more inclined to hire you if the change of companies was truly diverse experience such as being in a differnt but possibly related industry (Such as a medical equipment firm instead of a pharmaceuticial, for example) or an entirely differnt industry. It also would probably be a better way to get the broader experience you want.

People aren't going to know your family and you will be accepted or not on your own merit not by being the potential heir to the throne. Further, experience in a different industry will give you a far different perspective than staying in your same industry. Different industries tend to make different assumptions and seeing and changing the assumptions is part of the job of a CEO. It might be best to move into management in another industry entirely. Management skills directly translate to different industries so you are still gaining valueable experience.

Then after a couple of years, move back to the industry you are interested in but a firm different than your parent's firm. Once you have successfully had outside experience, people aren't going to see you so much as wanting to commit industrial sabotage and won't be seeing you so much as someone who might not really be capable because he got his previous jobs due to his parents.

Then move back out to a different related industry, then to your parent's firm when you are relatively experienced at the mid to high management level.

  • Thank you for your answer. I find all the answers very good, and I have selected yours as the prefered answer because of the alternative approach of going into management.
    – Carlos
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 17:00
  • This answer is perfect - I must admit I didn't read to the point of it as it is so long :) My answer is essentially the same, with examples.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 13:44
  • That is not even close to being a long answer.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 15:41

You said yourself that the B companies do not directly compete with your parents' company, so they should have no worry that you are going to steal their secrets. In fact, you could probably use your involvement in the company to your advantage.

You don't need to open up your interview with "By the way, you should know my parents own X company." - that would be a little awkward. However, when, during the natural process of your interview, you are asked to describe your time at your previous job, you can mention that your parents actually own the company. From there you can explain how (presumably) because of that you had access to much more knowledge of the inner-workings of a company in that industry. You should actually be a better hire than some other random candidate with your same level of experience, because you understand much more about the big ideas and decisions that you could be dealing with.

However, a likely follow-up question will be to ask why you are leaving the family business. Make sure you have a good answer that doesn't make them think you will just quit in a few years.

Now, if you were hired, you would certainly have to sign some agreements which prevent you from sharing info with your family, but that just makes the new company feel even more comfortable about bringing you aboard. RualStorge suggests you can even be proactive and offer to sign such agreements if they deem necessary before they even mention your need to sign them as 1. you'll likely have to sign them anyways, and 2. it demonstrates you're genuinely interested in the company and not their secrets.

  • 2
    I would add you can even be proactive and offer to sign such agreements if they deem necessary before they even mention your need to sign them as A you'll likely have to sign them anyways, and B it demonstrates you're genuinely interested in the company and no their secrets. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 17:38

You are the future owner and Ceo of a business that carries your name. Do not compromise your name and reputation. If you hide the fact, people will find out and the industry will not want to make business with you. Working incognito sounds romantic, while building up yourself for your future role sounds wise. I'd suggest be transparent and work with those companies that are not direct competitors but are in a related field and give the most value to your own.

  • this is the best answer here.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 13:30

It's not in your best interest to mention unless directly asked in which circumstance honesty it the base policy. For strategies to avoid different treatment avoid mentioning any intention of returning to the family business and emphasize the "wanting to get a wider perspective of the industry".


Some thoughts,

  • As Mark has said, it is not sensible to think in any way you can work "incognito". That is a "non-starter". Just forget it.

  • In general the course of action seems, I would say, "bizarre" ...

  • Understand that it would be, exactly as bizarre, as if indeed your Mother or Father decided to "work for a competitor for a few years" to improve themselves. Your Mother, yourself, and your Father are precisely the owners of the company! To repeat, it is bizarre to think you (or, your Mother or Father) could "work for a competitor" for a few years.

It could be, the solution you are looking for:

It is completely admirable you want to work away from the family firm, for some time, to develop yourself. Fantastic. However, the idea of doing that at a competitor is nonsensical.

The excellent, and indeed better, course of action in your situation is to work simply in another field (maybe a related field - sure - but not a competitor, not the same field).

This is the typical thing in admirable dynasties, and is what you should do. It ultimately makes your company stronger and makes your position in it appear stronger.

(Examples abound - for instance the "beer families" in the US, the youth do not go work at the other competing beer to gain improvement; they work in a related but different field (say, food processing, distribution, etc).)

The only other option that working in a different field: (as with the fictional Francisco d'Anconia), just start your own small company in your field, and run it as this "learning exercise." That's the badass move.

Good luck to you and the enterprise !

  • Yes, it's an antagonistic idea; an anti-idea.
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 14:53
  • 1
    Quite right, Rob :)
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 15:41

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