“Duck Dynasty” or The Pros and Cons of HR in a Family Business with Guest Blogger Terri Kaye Beregi

Hi everyone!  I’m chatting today with my friend, and first guest blogger, Terri Kaye Beregi.  She and I used to work together at a family business and we both have a lot of experience in that unique realm.  Terri’s words are in BLUE.

First off…do you watch “Duck Dynasty” at all?  I’ve seen it a few times with my Dad and that’s what got me thinking about this post.  I know they do a lot specifically for the camera, but the safety violations ALONE on that show make me cringe.  They rode a canoe or something on an assembly line?  I can’t really remember but all I could think was, “It’s a good thing this is fake because if someone really did that and lost a hand or whatever, the paperwork would end that business.”

We LOVE “Duck Dynasty!”  Phil for President!  LOL


Secondly, you and I have both worked at multiple family businesses over the years.  All of these companies are relatively small, right?  Both of mine were between 200 – 300 employees…and I’m not counting the skating rink when I was 15 because I was just the birthday party hostess, not HR.  Is that the same for you?

I’ve been all over the spectrum in size, attitude and degrees of respectability with regards to HR in the family business.  Of course there is our mutual experience and currently the company I work for holds 230 employees and 5 multi state locations. 


Everything is more personal.  You get to really know a lot of the employees and are able to help them in ways that you definitely couldn’t in a large corporate setting.  I’ve advised people on domestic violence intervention, low-cost prescription drug assistance, getting a passport…you name it.  By advised, I mean I Googled a few things, made some calls, and put the employee in touch with someone else, but I’m able to take 5 minutes out of my day to do that for people because I actually interact with them.  To some people I’m still the mean HR lady because that will never change, but to some of them…I’m their hero.

Agreed.  Statistically speaking we all know the benefits of making an employee feel invested in their company. This is one of the great examples where HR can be directly involved in that.  This is what I call the ‘touchy feely’ part, and it is way easier to get involved in this side of HR in a family setting as opposed to a corporate structure.  It allows HR to be really hands on in areas of assistance that may or may not deal with true HR items such as benefits and compensation.  Our family member bosses appreciate the effort to help the after school worker that lives 2 doors down from them complete financial aid paperwork and maybe, just maybe, that kid will go to school for something relevant to the company and remain a productive member of your business’s work force.  Win win!

Flexibility is always good.

Flexibility is always good.

More flexibility.  The owners are largely around more and you get to know them better and they understand a little more that you need to get to soccer practice on time, etc.

This is a huge benefit, especially to the family oriented, the college student or the caretaker of a sick parent.  As a mom of 3 this is extremely key to my life personally and I’ve seen it work for so many others in a family owned business where it would never be a possibility in the corporate world.  Again, invested employees are better employees and by working with someone’s situation both the business and the employee benefit.  If Jill isn’t stressed out all the time about getting little Johnny off the bus because the babysitter quit again, she’s going to be way more productive even if she has to leave at 2 instead of 5. Personally, I was once in a position that I had long since outgrown professionally but turned down more impressive job offers because the flexibility wasn’t there.  Yeah, it’s THAT big of a deal.   

Faster decision-making.  Things don’t have to go up an endless corporate ladder to be implemented.  You have an idea, you track down an owner, schedule a meeting and make a decision.  You don’t need 17 signatures and a committee to make it happen.

If there is one key person in charge, sure this could be the case.  However, more often I’ve seen this be a road block because there is only one person in charge or two people in charge who you can never get in the same room.  What I would like to interject here is maybe the ‘ask forgiveness not permission’ benefit.  I pretty much live by this in my current position because I can never get the top dogs to sit down for 5 minutes together to OK or veto something I need to do.  So, I go with my best option.  They will either love it or hate it but chances are I won’t lose my job over it.  In a corporate world, you’re more likely to be punished for making decisions on your own because the board meeting is 2 months away. 

open door

Open-door policies.  Most family companies are very good to their employees because they see the day-to-day work they’re doing and how their sweat is building a future for this family business.  They try to keep employees happy, so if you have a question or concern about something and your manager doesn’t adequately resolve it, you are free to go above their head.

Where this is most definitely a benefit to the employee, it could create HR nightmares.  When Manager Marty was enforcing a die-hard no cell phone policy when he disciplined Emily Employee she took it straight to President Paul.  President Paul buys Emily’s excuse/reason and assures her she shouldn’t worry about it and all is forgiven.  What she did not tell him is that she was driving the forklift unloading a pallet of bricks while talking on the cell phone and speeding!  What we’ve created now is a misinformed President, an undermined manager, and a smug employee who feels she got away with something and WILL do it again.  And who has to clean it up?  You, the HR Hero!

This is very true, especially with poor communication between Marty and Paul.  Ideally Paul would confer with Marty before telling Emily anything.  USUALLY the transparency and closeness of owners makes an open-door policy a good thing.  Not always.



EVERYTHING is more personal.  The gossip increases tenfold, and so does the office politics. In a corporate environment when you hear Ted in accounting is getting a divorce because of his gambling addiction, you don’t care to listen to that or repeat it because you have no idea who Ted is and gambling addiction and divorce are sad.  At a smaller, family run company, everyone knows everyone and often, everything.  If you’re having a bad day and get a little terse with Sheila in the next office, you can apologize immediately but you can bet your life she’s already told 3 people, it will get to your supervisor, and she’ll hold that grudge for 2 weeks.

Most definitely true!  Even in a 230 person establishment, news…good or bad spreads like wildfire.  Once, it beat me across the parking lot! :)

Different HR ideas.  At a family business, the family has the final say and that’s that, whether you agree with it or not.  For example, I think that when an employee is caught stealing, they should be fired.  This is a clear violation of policies, it ruins morale because people will know he was caught and NOT FIRED if that’s the case, and stealing is illegal.  If the owner decides to be charitable and keep _____ around and just “keep a closer eye on him” then you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

In my earlier HR years I struggled with this immensely.  I mean, your employer hired you as a resident ‘expert’ in the field of HR.  Not that you are the ‘end all be all’ of course, but in this organization among this group of people you are expected to be the most knowledgeable in this field.  They realized they were to a point where HR was important enough to hire someone to handle it so they should be on board with this method of thinking, right? Wrong! And sometimes that’s hard to swallow.  I’ve learned to come to the meetings prepared and give them the most informed opinion why something should or should not be done.  Then, most importantly, I’ve learned that they may or may not take my advice and I’m ok with that (for the most part).  At the end of the day, their name is on the sign and the paychecks.  I had to come to a hard realization that even though I knew what I was talking about and had HR law to back me up, ultimately they had the deciding vote because it’s their money and their potential lawsuit to risk.

I will also say that this gets better with age and practical experience.  Even though I was the highest HR authority in an organization at 23 years old – to the 73-year-old President – I was still a baby, wet behind the ears even with a 4 year degree and a few years of practical work experience under my belt.  I could hold my own in a meeting but the moment someone mentioned how young I was even in casual water cooler conversation, I think I lost some credibility.  Like with anything else, you become more respected and trusted the longer you’ve worked in a particular field.  Now, still the youngest of Department Heads in my organization, I have many more years of practical experiences to back my opinion and I typically meet less resistance.


It’s a word you’ll hear a lot.

Resistance to change.  Their payroll, inventory, or accounting software is way out of date.  You know of a much better one that would help speed things up so much.  They won’t do it.  The reasons run the gamut from “too expensive”, “too risky”, “what we have is working”, etc…but the bottom line is, they won’t do it.

Policies, equipment, procedures need to evolve.  But it’s a hard thing to get accomplished for the reasons you list above.  What I’ve found is that they will eventually come around if they see examples of the benefits of doing such…or if they get pissed off enough about something!  Employees clocking each other in?  Get a biometric time-keeping system (finger/hand scanner). Too expensive?  Show them the 10 hours of overtime on Jim’s timesheet when we know for a fact he left early at least 3 days last week.  One department’s color printer is out and they are walking clear across the parking lot all day long to use another one.   Can we get them a new $$$ printer? No.  Note the amount of time it takes Denise and Michelle to do this and show the owners just how much time is wasted in productivity.  They could recoup that $$$ printer cost in no time.  It just takes a little bit more effort and probably a lot more time to prove your point here in a personal, family setting than in an impersonal, $ driven corporate setting.  But the benefits of making a move are hard to deny in black and white.  Oh, and you have to pick your battles.  Note: You WILL NOT win them all! 

Little to no room for advancement.  You aren’t family and you never will be.  You won’t be made partner, ever.  If you’re the highest person in your department right now, congrats.  You’ve summited Everest.  It’s all downhill from here.

HR is usually the last department an organization thinks they need.  Let’s face it…HR is largely viewed as a necessary evil.  All this department does is put out money on things like benefits, payroll, safety equipment and the Christmas party for goodness sakes!   At first, it’s a handful of people, they either are all family or friends of the family.  No major HR problems and payroll is a breeze.  10 years down the road they have 100+ employees, unsafe work practices all over the place, and the employees want benefits and a 401k!  They need help and hire you.  For a long time you will probably be the only person in the HR department.  You’ll be both the VP of HR and the grunt.  (I love this line!  So true! – HRGF)  Maybe eventually you’ll get to hire some help.  Yay!  But Dominique’s right, there is nowhere else for you to go.  If one is lucky enough to get on board with owners who see that the position evolves and see that you’ve done a lot with the department, monetarily you will surely benefit the longer you are with the company.  But your position is what it is and you will not ever be the deciding vote in an owners meeting.  The family will.     

Slower decision-making.  Yes, it’s great that we don’t need 17 people to sign off and form a committee before we implement this policy but if the owner is the only one who can OK this and he’s out of town for 2 weeks, it sits for 2 weeks.  If she doesn’t prioritize HR and puts you last on her to-do-list every day, then finding her and getting her signature can take a while.  If she just wants to mull it over for a while and takes forever to make a decision, then forever we wait.

Insert ‘ask forgiveness not permission’ statement here!  In a family business you will wait for answers on items that you deem to be extremely important, mainly because the family members probably won’t view them as important.  Also, because HR is not the ‘production’ side of things so it usually takes a back seat to how many widgets they can produce in one day.  Shocker….we are not always viewed as the most important piece of the puzzle!  (I will not go off into a rant of how without HR there would be no people to make the widgets, thus no widgets to sell, therefore no money to earn and no business to speak of!) 

At one point in time, when I was in a particular unsatisfying position with a family company, I had thought family business was not for me.  It was too ‘willy-nilly’ in regards to policies and how they were interpreted for different people and circumstances.  I needed a black-and-white-no-grey-area corporation so that I could successfully function in an HR capacity.  I was wrong.  That particular family, although wonderful people, had made it hard for me to do my job effectively because of how they viewed HR and its role in a corporation.  When I spoke with the family company that I’m with now, I finally realized what was key: how an employer viewed HR’s role as a whole within the company structure.

Do I make less money in a family business than I would in a corporate setting? Definitely.  Do I run into all the cons listed above? Sure.  But I also reap all the benefits listed as well. The family owned company that I work with today allows me flexibility as an employee, values my opinion as an HR director and I’m allowed the authority to do what needs to be done in any given situation.  I know that working with a family organization is definitely not for everyone.  Many people could not deal with the idiosyncrasies involved.  However at least in my own situation, at the end of the day, it’s a good place to be.   

Thank you so much for chatting with me and being my first guest blogger, TKB!  I loved everything you added.  Working at a family business can be frustrating but it is also incredibly rewarding!


terri kaye

Terri Kaye Beregi graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a degree in Business Management with a Concentration in HR.  She has been an HR Manager in the Baton Rouge area for over ten years and is currently HR Director of a multi-million dollar family business.  She is also a semi-professional photographer.  Her terrific work can be seen at http://www.photosbytk.com/.  She has a wonderful husband and three gorgeous children: Elizabeth, 9, Jackson, 6, and Tate, 4 months.  She’s a dog person and does not enjoy ANY flavors of Pop Tarts.  (I’m sorry, you guys.  I have to get a better screening process.  I didn’t find out that Pop Tart thing till this was finished, I swear.)

“Duck Dynasty” and associated images are owned by A&E.


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