How can you make a name for yourself if that name belongs to your famous parent? We talk to people who've wrestled with this problem – and found their own answers.
Once upon a time, A young man went out into the world to earn his fortune. Let's call him John. All he had was some bread and cheese wrapped in a spotted handkerchief, his talent and guile and a lucky guitar. After many adventures and many defeats, John triumphed: he became a king – wealthy, successful and middle-aged. The beautiful and artistic princess that he married – let's call her Yoko – bore him a son. They called the boy Sean. And when the time came for Prince Sean to go out into the world, he didn't need to earn a fortune; he was already rich. And although he was blessed with the privileges of a prince, there was a curse, too: wherever he went, he had to carry a yardstick, so that everybody could measure the distance by which he fell short of his father …

That fanciful story from the entertainment industry can easily be applied to construction: we have the recent example of the Tony Pidgleys. As you will know, a stormy relationship between father and son culminated last month in Tony Jr's £1bn bid for Tony Sr's Berkeley Group empire. Mark Parkinson, a director at business psychologist Bluewater Partnership, says the relationship between parents and children – problematic and complex in the calmest of families – can become particularly strained when it is successful entrepreneur vs whippersnapper. "It's the battle of enthusiasm over wisdom," he says. "Fathers who have built up their companies obviously know something about the business. The father has been through the ups and downs." Set against this a keen and critical son or daughter. "Sons begin to think fathers are silly old gits who don't know what they're on about. The offspring believe they have better ideas."

To find out more about the struggle between the generations, Building approached several industry offspring from a range of sectors – contracting, housebuilding, architecture and specialist contracting – and asked them to share their experiences. Some declined, including Elliott Lipton and Matthew Priestman. Others had interesting takes on the problem, such as architects Victoria and Jonathan Manser (pictured), the children of Michael, who argue that the dominance of architecture in the family home both enriched and distorted their views of the world and their place in it. Both are circumspect about encouraging their own children to become architects.

Some downplayed the importance of family. Simon Botes, son of the founder and chairman of contractor Botes Group, insisted that he didn't see Botes as a family firm, and that in any case he was running a separate arm of it to his father. He clearly wanted to prove himself in his own right, rather than setting himself up as a shoo-in to take over the firm from his father. Others, such as Robert Stewart (who was sacked by his father at the start of his career), lay bare their relationships very honestly.

It seems these relationships can be strained or awkward, but close and warm as well. And as Parkinson points out, there is a positive side to the familial bond in business. "Because you know them better, you can give them a bollocking," he says. "It's a lot easier to get stroppy – it gets arguments sorted out quicker."

Victoria Manser, founder, Victoria Manser Architect
daughter of architect Michael Manser, former RIBA president

Like her elder brother Jonathan, Victoria Manser grew up surrounded by books, drawings and conversations about architecture. But whereas he opted early on to follow the example of their father and former RIBA president Michael, she resisted and considered other careers.

Before long, however, Victoria came to accept that she and architecture were rather well suited. She went on to study at Bristol University and the Architectural Association in London. After picking up professional experience in a string of high-profile London practices, including Edward Cullinan Architects, Alsop & Lyall and Chassay Associates, she set up on her own in 1985. She now runs a one-person practice, Victoria Manser Architect, from the top floor of the family maisonette in Pimlico.

What career advice did your father give you?
My parents were quite keen for me not to follow in their footsteps. I lived through years of misery, recessions and hard times suffered by my father, so I was under no illusions. But once I did decide to go into architecture, I got a lot of support.

Why didn't your father's miserable experiences put you off?
Because at the end of the day, architecture really did interest me, and it still does. Inevitably, many family holidays were spent looking at interesting buildings, and it rubbed off.

Which other careers did you consider?
I would have loved to have been a barrister, but I'm not articulate enough – and I don't have a retentive brain.

Are you happy with your work–life balance?
It fluctuates, and it's very hard as a working mother. Architecture can be all-consuming, and I think it is a professional problem. My father radiates confidence, he radiates optimism, which is very healthy. He doesn't see problems in the way that I do, and that has made him very successful.

Did you ever rebel against your father?
He was very against my going to the Architectural Association. I suppose that was the only time I really did go against what he felt was right. Then later on, he asked both Jonathan and myself whether we wanted to join the family firm. I never seriously considered it. I was the younger one, and I suppose I felt slightly embarrassed that I couldn't think of anything different to do, so therefore I felt the need to go off in my own direction.

I wouldn't say I rebelled against my father: my approach and my style of architecture is very different. He's much purer in his approach. I'm more willing to be informed and influenced by buildings surrounding a particular site, and I don't always want to use the latest materials. He calls me a soft modernist. I don't know whether it's derogatory, but it's probably true.

Do you think offspring following in their parents' footsteps are a dying breed in the architectural profession?
I don't think so. It's very powerful, the influence of a profession within a family. I think my daughter will end up doing something design-orientated too. The last idea she was talking about was naval architecture. She's only 13, but that combines her interests in sailing and design, and she thought designing yachts might take her to glamorous places.

I lived through years of misery, recession and hard times …

Victoria Manser

Is being the offspring of a RIBA president a blessing or a curse?
Inevitably a curse at times. My father was very political at one stage and had both friends and foes in the profession. So there were architectural practices where I probably wouldn't have been able to get a job at a certain stage. When I was trying to get work in other practices and trying to be recognised for myself, people expected me to be a clone of my father. But now I think I'm mature and established enough to just be who I am.

Jonathan Manser, director, the Manser Practice
son of architect Michael Manser, former RIBA president

The smell of wet concrete is one of Jonathan Manser's earliest memories. He became immersed in architecture from an early age: he used go round sites with his dad, one-time RIBA president Michael Manser, on Saturday mornings. His mother has been architecture correspondent for The Observer and the Financial Times, and editor of the RIBA Journal, so there was no getting away from talk of architecture at home. He began doing odd jobs at his father's practice in school holidays when he was 14.

Before studying for his architecture degree at Cambridge, Manser did a spell as an office boy at Foster and Associates. He then worked for architects such as RHWL and Chapman Taylor before setting up on his own for six years, renting office space from his father. This led to helping his dad with projects and a gradual, 20-year process of integration into his practice.

Did your father expect you to take up the same career as him?
I wasn't really encouraged to become an architect, but there wasn't much else talked about at home. We never really talked about whether he expected it or not, but I think he would have thought it odd if I hadn't joined the family firm.

What other careers did you consider following?
None. It sounds a bit feeble, but I didn't realise there was much else to do.

Did you ever rebel against your dad when you were growing up?
Not as far as I can remember. If I had, I wouldn't be here. I did all the things you're supposed to do – go to university, get a degree, qualify. I always felt, and still do, that my parents had an expectation of me and I didn't want to disappoint them.

How would you compare your business approach with your father's?
I had always thought the practice wasn't run properly as a business, I felt that my father treated the business as something separate from his architecture. We now have a managing director, and the business stands up financially. I suspect my attitude towards business is as wishy-washy as his, but I'm prepared to let someone else control that side of it.

Do architects' children still follow their parents?
Architecture didn't really get recognised as a profession until the late 19th century – so it doesn't go back centuries like, say, farming. But clearly, there is a tradition. It's amazing the amount of people I was at university with who were the children of other architects. I can't think of any reason why it might change.

Is being the son of a famous industry figure a blessing or a curse?
On balance, it's a blessing. I don't think I would have got through the door at Foster's without the name. But we have had some slightly odd meetings with planning officers where the name Manser is like a red rag to a bull. My father has spoken out against planners in the past.

Do you think your children will follow you?
I have two daughters; Olivia is 16 and Claudia is 14. One of the things that has happened as a result of my upbringing is that I do not talk about work at home because, if they want to become architects, I want them to discover that for themselves. I want them to do something they enjoy doing.

We never talk business any more

Robert Stewart

How often are you in contact with your dad?
I see him almost daily.

Has your relationship changed since you took up your career?
We have had to make an effort to separate our professional relationship from our father–son relationship. I don't think we've ever had a blazing row in the office, but we've certainly had disagreements. And because he's my father, there's a level of complexity that you wouldn't have to deal with otherwise.

Robert Stewart, founder of Maxwell Stewart
son of Ian Stewart, founder of Lorne Stewart

Robert Stewart began working for his dad, Ian Stewart, after leaving school at 16. After more than 20 years' experience in the building services industry and a couple of bust-ups with his father, Stewart has learned his trade sufficiently well to set up his own M&E outfit. Stewart Jr created Maxwell Stewart in 1991 with partner John Sheehy. Stewart proudly notes that he is a fifth-generation Stewart and that his father worked for his grandfather, who started Kyle Stewart, the £100m construction business that was bought by HBG in the late 1980s.

Did your father expect you to take up the same career as him?
No, not at all; it was me that went to him. I was 16 and fed up and didn't want to go university, so I began working for Lorne Stewart. My father didn't really give me any advice, and didn't impose any kind of style on me. He left me to do things the way I wanted to and it has worked for me.

Did you have other career ambitions?
No, I think I always wanted to go into engineering. I was good at sports but discovered alcohol, so sport went out of the window. I always enjoyed taking things apart so engineering and construction was for me.

Did you ever rebel against your dad?
My dad sacked me from Lorne Stewart for failing my maths O level. He said I had to retake it or lose my job with him. I said I wouldn't retake it so he ended up sacking me and paying me off. Mum eventually become so annoyed with me lazing around the house that she convinced my dad to let me back to work as a pipe-fitter's mate.

I have always had bust-ups with my dad – we used to argue about anything and everything. We see each other about three times a week now; in fact he has just left the office, and we get along great. But we never talk business any more.

How would you compare your approach with your father's?
My dad was one of the best-known figures in the building services world, so I've learned a lot from him. It's taken me 15 years to realise that he was one of the best businessman around and he is tremendously respected in the field. His philosophy is based on simplicity and I can totally relate to it. You should be able to keep everything you need for a meeting on one piece of paper — any extra and you don't need it. It is apparent how respected he was in the industry because I've even had men on site approach me and ask to meet him.

Do you think children still follow their parents' professions?
I think it depends on the industry that you are in. I know quite a few people that have followed in their parents' footsteps. I think it is natural for children to take over a family company if they choose to do so.

Is being the son of an industry figure a blessing or a curse?
Both. When I first worked at Lorne Stewart and for the first five years of Maxwell Stewart it was a curse, it was a bloody nightmare. Everybody would refer to me as Ian Stewart's son, so it was difficult to get an identity. And because my dad was so good, I had to live up to him. But because the name is so well known in the industry, it has had its advantages. Business is all about contacts, so that can only be a good thing.

I don’t want to fail. I’ve got the ultimate motivator

James Wilson

Do you think your children will follow you?
I have a daughter, Amy, who is nine – she loves coming to sites and looking around – and I have a son who is only 18 months old and too young to know. But I would never impose a career path on them.

James Wilson, regional managing director, David Wilson Homes
son of David Wilson, chairman, Wilson Bowden

A lot of people in housebuilding know who James Wilson is before he mentions the surname. The looks are undeniably similar to those of his father, David, chairman of Leicestershire-based developer and housebuilder Wilson Bowden, and so is the career path. James has spent the past two years heading its East Midlands region, a job known within the company as the "hot seat" because it was his father's old stamping ground.

It is a big job for a 30-year-old, but Wilson Jr has packed a lot of experience into his short life. On leaving university he bought a site from an insolvent builder and built his first house. He joined Wilson Bowden shortly after and worked his way up through land appraisal, buying, quantity surveying and construction to become construction manager of the East Midlands region — then started back at the bottom all over again as a land buyer in the same region to broaden his experience. By the age of 28, he had made it to regional director, then managing director. In April, James takes up the post of group development director, and with it a seat on the David Wilson Homes board.

Did your father expect you to come into housebuilding?
I've been very lucky. At no point in time did my parents suggest that I ought to come into the business. I'm sure they secretly thought that it would be nice, but they never pushed me in that way. David – I always call him David during the working day – never gave me any particular advice.

Your father doesn't give you advice?
From time to time he's given me pearls of wisdom, but I've done most things pretty much on my own. Early mistakes are cheap.

Did you have other career ambitions?
Ever since I could walk I've been wandering around with David poking my nose into things on sites or at the head office in Ibstock. So this has always been home to me. I loved farming and did consider going into that – I talked to Harper Adams University College about doing a degree, but they told me I wasn't clever enough. That helped make up my mind. I did a degree in residential development at Nottingham Trent, which is marketed as a course for future managing directors. I was hell-bent on getting a degree. There was no way that I was going to join as my father's son.

How would you compare your approach to your father's?
After 40 years in the business, what David says goes. I have to demonstrate that things work; I have to demonstrate that I know what I'm doing. David is constantly planning for a worst-case scenario. There are a thousand things that could keep me awake at night, but they don't. I don't compare myself to David, but I'm sure other people do. One disadvantage is that we look alike, so people know who I am before I tell them.

How often are you in contact with your father on business?
I'm one of 12 regional managing directors. I hear from him once a month or so. I thought when I took over East Midlands that he'd be on my back, but he hasn't and I thank him for that. It must be hard not to pick up the phone.

Was it difficult for you to take on your father's patch?
I was confident, but apprehensive. At the time I had the familiar feeling that I'd been thrown in the deep end again. It keeps you on your toes.

Do you think you've had a tough time for being the boss' son?
It was my choice to move from construction to land buying. I had to make a readjustment: one day I was responsible for 30 people and £20m worth of construction and the next I didn't know what I was doing. But I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the different disciplines. I draw on that every day. I wouldn't have had the confidence if I hadn't had the tour of the business. I don't want to fail. I've got the ultimate motivator.

I don’t know that I’d label Botes as a family business just because I joined

Simon Botes

Has your relationship with your father changed?
The relationship hasn't changed, but now when the family meet for a meal my stepmother has to sit us at either ends of the table, because we'll jabber on for the whole meal and nobody else gets a look in. We'll talk about everything from the price of concrete to the market.

Is being the son of an industry figure a blessing or a curse?
There are occasions when it is a hindrance because people compare us. I would like to think that one benefit is that I have inherited some of his business acumen. We often come up with the same conclusion when solving a problem independently.

Simon Botes, managing director of Botes Interiors
son of Ian Botes, chairman and founder of Botes Group

Simon Botes was born a few months before his father Ian started his family firm in 1973. "It must have been an excuse to get away from my screaming," he says. The group, which is due to turn over about £85m this year, operates in the London and South-east. It welcomed Simon into the fold last year when he joined to set up a dedicated fit-out arm.

His first experience in construction was working on sites as a teenager during summer holidays. "They are quite fond memories," he recalls. "It got me interested in the construction process." After some nudging from his father, Simon took a QS degree at Reading University in the mid 1990s. He then joined Gleeds, moving up the ranks to become an associate. Last year, Botes Jr reached a crossroads. "My father had been asking me for some time if I would be interested in coming into the business. It was in the back of my mind," he recounts. "I was getting to the point when I was either going to move or stay in consultancy for the rest of my career."

Did your father expect you to take over at the firm or take up the same profession? What was his advice to you?
I don't think he pushed me into anything … But then again at the age of 18, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. He suggested I might want to get into a construction-related profession.

Did you have any other career ambitions?
I don't think I was ever in a position where I wanted to be a lawyer or a banker, by any manner of means.

How would you compare your approach with your father's?
I have not really been close enough to his business to understand his approach other than at board level. From what I have seen, I am very impressed. I don't think we differ massively in our approach.

Do you think children still follow their parents' footsteps?
I don't know whether I would label Botes as a family business just because I have joined one of the group companies.

Do you think your children will follow you?
I would like to think if I had children, I would give them the opportunity to do what they wanted. I wouldn't be pressuring them to commit to a family business, if indeed there was one to commit to … I am sure there will be.

Has you relationship with your father changed since you took up your career?
I probably have a closer relationship with him now. We try and keep family matters separate from business.

Is being the son of an industry figure a blessing or a curse?
There is a bit of both. I wouldn't be lying if I said my previous employers didn't assume that one day I would leave and join Botes – which has turned out to be a correct concern. However, I don't think my career progression was ever harmed by the link.