Reflections on Family in Business

Does the world disrespect family business? Is there an unpleasant assumption of nepotism?

When I started Palo Alto Software, back in the middle 1980s, it was about me and business planning and a few good clients and a stubborn insistence on eventually selling boxes instead of hours. When it started as Infoplan in 1983 my oldest child was 11 years old.

They didn’t teach family business at Stanford while I was getting my MBA degree. It was all consulting and analysis and high-end buzzwords. But they didn’t teach entrepreneurship either, just a single course in “small business management,” taught by Steve Brandt.

So years pass, those children grow up, and I discover family business in the best possible way.  I’m proud. They are now educated, successful grownups, with degrees from Notre Dame, Princeton, NYU, Whitman, and one still not finished, a sophomore at Stanford.

Two weeks ago I named my daughter Sabrina Parsons CEO and her husband Noah Parsons COO.

Nepotism? Let’s see … they are both Princeton grads, they built a London company distributing our software as an independent venture, they’ve managed our marketing as share grew from 50 to 70% and sales by 30%. They were employees #1 and #2 at, which eventually cashed in for tens of millions. Noah was employee 101 at Yahoo! and Sabrina managed online marketing for Commtouch.

So now I have what seems like an ideal situation and an excellent example of the upside of family business. I can step down from president-CEO and refocus my job as president on writing, teaching, and living business planning content, the parts of the business I’ve always loved. And at the same time I have a strong management team, experienced, dedicated, and completely trusted.

I can’t imagine a better scenario.


  • 10 Blogging Tips. My 1,000th Post on This Blog says:

    […] started in 2006, but did only a dozen posts in the first year. I really started in April 2007, with reflections on family business, a personal note about passing the torch to a second generation. I changed jobs then – my choice […]

  • RJ McHatton says:

    Family Businesses are the foundation of what makes this country great. I think that customers like to work with people they know, families. I hear this day in and day out in my video biography business. People tell stories about how the founder started the company and the family wanted to keep the traditions, the defining values of the company intact, so they kept it in the family.

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