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Who Are the Nepo Babies?

Dear Stephen,

I read a lot about Nepo Babies and how they have upwardly mobile career advantages because of their family name. I read about it mostly in show business, where the list of names is endless. Also, in politics (any Bush you can name, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Rand Paul, and many others), but I believe it exists in furniture too. The definition of nepo-baby, short for nepotism baby, is the child of someone who is well connected in their chosen field, and who has likely benefited from their parents’ connections while launching their own career.

For many years I worked at Steelcase, where a very senior leadership person’s son became the President of a #Steelcase subsidiary back then called “Metro” out of San Francisco, and that job morphed into President of Coalesse, another Steelcase subsidiary. This is just my observation, it‘s nothing personal, it is just that; an observation. Now that I think about it, there is another former Steelcase big shot whose son is in leadership at MillerKnoll. So Western Michigan is not exactly Hollywood, but the right name still opens doors. I see the same thing at many dealerships with the kids just showing up one day and taking over the primo accounts and it makes it tough for the rest of us to get ahead. 

What’s your take on Nepo Babies in our industry? How widespread is this? I am curious as to your take on this.


 What’s In A Name


Dear Name Envy-er,

Oh my gosh, you’re really over-reaching with this question and your very dated observations are, well, pathetic. Yet you are accurate in your definition of “Nepo Baby,” but that is about the only thing you got right! 

I can’t address examples of nepotism in industries other than our furniture and interiors industry. However, I personally know, and have done business with, many furniture executives who have helped their children find jobs in our industry and my take is that both the parents and the children are hard workers and successful on their own merit. We published your question because we’ve received several letters similar to yours, and since nepo babies are trending, I think we should clear the air and take your question a step further.

Many of the companies in the interiors furnishings industry are privately owned family businesses and many of them are giants in our industry, employing thousands of people, for example, Kohler, Haworth, Teknion, Global, OFS and many more. A family member running one of these giants is not nepotism, but rather an owner leading their family business. Get it?

Those businesses are dynasties. Let me define Dynasty: A succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in the business. Taking over a family business is NOT nepotism. And some of these dynasties have great family-member leaders who work hard and then hire senior management from outside of the family to help them grow the company. I can give you many more examples, including manufacturers, dealers and even some architectural/design firms within our industry. 

The original owners of Steelcase dealers have sons and daughters, many 3rd generation by now, running the business better than their parents could ever imagine. I don’t think that entrepreneurs start a business with the plan that their children will some day take over, but sometimes it works out that way. A combination of hard work, good genes and luck. One thing is for sure, these are not nepo babies, but the next generation of owners. I see very little nepotism in the industry, just enterprising parents or grandparent’s who started great companies and their children gravitated to those family businesses, and when they have not, the kids moved on and the companies still grew. Some are now public companies, something the founders may have never thought possible.

I get the resentment at a dealer when the owner’s kids are lazy and don’t earn the right to inherit the best accounts, but I rarely see anything like it at the manufacturing level and guess what - if you do not like it at the dealer you work at, go work somewhere else!

So, to answer your question, I rarely see nepotism in our industry, and if I am wrong, keep writing and share examples. The lesson here for you is do not confuse a family dynasty with nepotism because they are not the same thing.