When Every Day Is “Bring Your Child To Work” Day

To expose his kids to entrepreneurial lessons, this executive practices some extreme work-life integration.

Clay Clark, founder and COO of Thrive15, likes to do things his own way. He rises at 3 a.m. every morning after a five-hour sleep in order to avoid what he calls “the data smog” of the normal workday. “I can read a case study, or read a biography, and I can think, rather than be inundated with opinions.” There’s a “purity of thought” possible in those early morning hours, he says.

Clay Clark

For Clark and his wife, that habit of marching to their own drum extends to how they educate and spend time with their children. The Clarks have five little ones: Havana, 10; Aubrey, 7; Angelina, 6; and the twins Laya (“I managed to sneak in a Star Wars reference”) and Scarlett, 4. In 2011, the Clarks made a decision to homeschool their children. And it was this decision, ultimately, that enabled Clark to make another one: to engage his kids in a constant, recurring series of “take your child to work” days.

In any given week, Clark takes at least one of the five children either to the office or a to a work event. The kids may support the work of the office in some way–delivering coffee, helping Dad shovel snow, setting up cameras for a Thrive15 video–or they may engage in work projects of their own. Havana is writing a book, a mystery with a female protagonist. “I’m teaching her to put forth a daily effort,” says Clark. “I try to teach work ethic.” Havana also has learned the rudiments of photo editing, in particular color correction.

When Aubrey comes to work (Clark tends to bring one of his eldest along on Fridays), he’ll process mailers or take coffee to other workers. “He wears a little tie,” says Clark. Partly because Thrive15 is itself a startup devoted to fostering entrepreneurship, Aubrey and the others are constantly exposed to lessons about businesses solving problems. “He’s very shrewd,” says Clark of Aubrey. At the company “Festivus” party, Aubrey eyed the 300 employees gathered. “I think I could sell a lot of cupcakes,” he told his father.

Angelina is just old enough to occasionally visit the office, mostly in a moral support role. She draws what Clark calls “pictures of encouragement.” In other words: “She might draw you a picture of a butterfly, and it might say, ‘David, you’re the best!’ on it.” Clark says he is teaching her a concept called “the law of reciprocity”: if you put good energy into the world, hopefully it’ll boomerang back down the line. Clark has also taught her Napoleon Hill’s concept of “overdelivery,” of exceeding expectations. Recently, Angelina’s grandmother asked Angelina to help fold some towels. Angelina went above and beyond, folding more than asked. “I overdelivered!” she said. (“That was my Dad highlight of the year,” says Clark.)

The twins don’t get one-on-one visits to the office with Dad just yet, but every Saturday, Clark wakes up the kids at 5 or 6 a.m., piles them into his Hummer, and the gang makes their way to the office. (Clark works six days a week.) He shows them that even though he owns the company, he’ll pick up trash and shovel snow like anyone else, and they help him in these tasks. “People say, ‘You’re nuts! You wake up your kids at 5 a.m.?’” He probably tends not to tell these people about the occasional weekdays when he wakes them up at 3 a.m. to bring them to the office for early morning video shoots. (In his defense, he says, Angelina alone seems not to have inherited his morning-person gene; the others “think it’s the best thing in the world.”)

To round it all out, Clark sometimes brings a child along on a business trip. (He received no complaints when taking Havana to a speaking gig at Disneyland.) All told, “each of my kids gets involved in a work day at least twice a month,” he says. “Some clients think it’s hilarious: ‘Is your daughter at work today?’ It’s bizarre to see a 6-year-old around a bunch of adults.”


Does he worry that he’s overemphasizing the skill sets related to business and entrepreneurialism? What if his kids simply don’t want to own businesses when they grow up? In the end, a passion–or at least an aptitude–for business can help enable and fund passions for any number of things, he says. “If my kids said, ‘Dad, all I want to do is paint paintings, or develop my musical skills,’ then I’d sit down with them and say, ‘Hey, I recommend building a business, so you can develop enough passive income that you can pursue that full throttle.’ I believe that a business is just a vehicle to help you get where you want to go.”


About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.