A few years back, India witnessed the biggest corporate battle:

Tata vs. Mistry

In 2011, we heard the surprising news that Ratan Tata gave away his throne of Tata Group to Cyrus Mistry. He was appointed as the Chairman of the empire.


Yes, it was surprising because we never imagined anyone apart from the last name ‘Tata’ could take over the throne to lead the legacy.

Cyrus Mistry was associated with Tata Sons long before he took the responsibility. Tata once said, “He has been on the board of Tata Sons since August 2006 and I have been impressed with the quality and caliber of his participation, his astute observations and his humility.” His contribution to the company gave him the highest chair.

Cyrus Mistry was the sixth and youngest chairman of Tata Sons. He was the second person with a different surname to lead the business conglomerate. While he was taking over the chair, Ratan Tata advised him to “Be your own man”. He surely became one!

The Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, too, acknowledged his sad demise as a great loss to the world of commerce and industry.

It’s quite clear that Cyrus Mistry managed to make a notable space in the epic family business.

But, why are we revisiting this story?

Well, future prolific professionals, welcome to the world of Family Businesses. We discussed the Cyrus Mistry story to understand that you don’t need a surname to be a valuable asset to a family business.

‘Family Business’ is a concept people assume to be like a silver spoon to the families owning it. However, no organization can run without the storm of challenges. We misunderstand that family businesses are usually controlled by family members. However, we fail to realize that a non-family employee significantly contributes to its success. Factually, it will be impossible for family businesses to grow without having non-family employees in the organization.

But, how can you thrive in a family business as a non-family employee?

To answer this question and make your fear run away, here are a bunch of practical and interesting strategies that can help you perform successfully.

So, let’s dive right in!

1. Solve the puzzle of missing skillset

It is just like Paresh Rawal urf Balli, in the movie ‘READY’, was a chartered accountant of Chaudhary, the goon family. He was a significant part of the family business as his profession was bridging the gap of skills set in the family.

In the dynamic realm of family businesses, recognizing skill gaps is key. While family members often fill various roles, it's vital to acknowledge that everyone has their limits. As your business expands, non-family employees can bridge those gaps, bringing fresh perspectives and expertise.

To gain objective insights and identify opportunities for growth, a business consultant proves invaluable. They help unearth the true strengths within your family, while also revealing the potential of non-family employees to enhance your company's talent pool.

By embracing this symbiotic relationship, your family business unlocks its true potential, blending heritage with external talent for unparalleled success.

2. Be the Hulk and break the departmental walls

What do you think; how does your recruitment process take place? Is it only the HR Department keeping the record of the requirements? Not at all! The HR department works in sync with other departments to know their needs for human resources and accordingly conducts the recruitment process.

Similarly, to bring in a culture of innovation and maximize the potential of a family-owned business, it is crucial to break down departmental silos and promote cross-functional collaboration.

By working closely with family members and employees from different departments, you gain exposure to different facets of the business and showcase your versatility. Well, you can tap into a vast pool of knowledge, expertise, and perspectives.

This collaborative approach also helps build trust, breaks down biases, and highlights your ability to adapt and contribute across various areas.

3. Stick to the ‘management room’ only

Imagine, a family business is like a mansion with different rooms, each with its unique dynamics, such as the management room, the owner’s room, the family room, and the room for the board of directors.

And as a thriving non-family executive, you should know that your expertise has to play in the ‘management room’ only. You must recognize the importance of keeping family matters within the family room.

Sometimes, family issues spill into the management room, getting non-family executives involved in it. However, successful leaders know when to step back and redirect such discussions to the family room. By striking this balance, you can ensure a harmonious environment where the business thrives while respecting family dynamics.

The key lies in understanding room boundaries, gracefully navigating between them, and keeping the focus on the business's growth and success.

4. Shifts and changes; the show must go on!

    This one’s like the change of the government in our country. Once the chair is given to a party with the maximum votes, you citizens can’t do anything about it but accept and adapt to the change.

    Working in a family-owned business means being prepared for shifts in leadership, strategic direction, and the ever-changing dynamics of the industry. It's important to showcase your adaptability and resilience in the face of these changes. Instead of resisting or fearing them, grab the opportunities they bring and actively seek ways to contribute during transitional periods.

    Show your willingness to learn new skills, take on different responsibilities, and support the company's growth. This not only expands your expertise but also positions you as a valuable asset to the company.

    Also, by displaying a proactive approach to change, you become a reliable resource during times of transition, inspiring confidence in both family members and colleagues.

    5. Family mentors can make you the company’s Bahubali!

    Remember Bahubali? He was invincible because he adhered to and worshiped his foster mother Sivagaami. As a non-family employee, you too can become unstoppable if you seek mentoring opportunities from experienced family members in the business.

    Within a family-owned business, you may find experienced family members who hold a wealth of insights and guidance. Their mentorship can become a priceless asset, providing you with career advice and helping you navigate the intricate workings of the company.

    Take the initiative to seek mentorship from these seasoned individuals. Your eagerness to learn and grow will not only gain you valuable knowledge but also build stronger connections with the family members.

    Engaging with family mentors allows you to tap into their extensive experience and learn from their successes and challenges. Their guidance can shed light on the family dynamics, help you navigate office politics, and offer valuable insights into career advancement opportunities within the company.

    These strategies can transform the word ‘impossible’ to ‘I’m possible’ when it comes to being a part of the family business.

    Navigating nepotism in a family-owned business as a non-family employee requires a combination of proactive strategies, adaptability, and dedication. Remember, your contributions and growth opportunities extend beyond familial ties, allowing you to make a significant impact and build a fulfilling career within the family-owned business context.

    However, your skills must prove that you are capable enough to not get dissolved in the challenges and complications of a family business or any other organization. NICMAR’s program of MBA/PGD in Family Business Management is finely designed to make you stand to the level.