At a family business, nepotism trumps common sense

Insecure IT pro derails straightforward phone upgrade when he pulls strings with founding family to get his way

Think twice before working for a family-owned business -- or at least the large, unnamed "Acme Corp." I once worked for. The people who started the business may have known what they were doing, but that same expertise did not magically pass on to future generations who inherited the family empire. Stiil, being a family member was seen as a qualification to run a business even if the skills did not measure up.

At the time of this story, the third generation was in charge, handing down a fair number of questionable business decisions and leaving employees to scratch their heads in puzzlement.

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For the most part, IT wasn't directly impacted, but we weren't exempt from their meddling either. Take, for example, the time when a coworker was tasked with purchasing and installing a new phone system for our branch, where we had grown to about 100 extensions.

A routine upgrade goes awry

This coworker had handled installing a new network at our branch a couple of years previously, and we'd been happy with the results. As part of his research, he solicited info from the networking company about a VoIP system, which was fairly new technology at the time. To be thorough, he also sought bids for an upgrade from the company that had sold us our existing (ancient) switch.

The networking company's bid came in well under the other company's. Additionally, the VoIP technology was rock-solid on our multilayer network, the service working invisibly to make certain that voice had priority over other network traffic. My coworker submitted a green sheet to our local management team to go with the VoIP option.

Local decisions such as this did not have to be signed off by headquarters, but we were required to file paperwork documenting any changes. The decision saved the company money and made sense for our branch's needs, so we didn't expect any problems. But we underestimated the power of family connections in a family business.

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