5 Tips for Siblings Working Together in the Family Business

This is the second in a two-part series on siblings in family businesses. Part one covered some successful sibling partnerships, while part two give tips for success for siblings who are in business together.

Even though you may have fought over whose turn it was to use the bathroom and who sat where in the car as children, that doesn’t mean you can’t own and run a successful business with your sibling.

There are unique challenges to it, of course. You may not have chosen your sister as a business partner. You can’t easily quit and go to another business when you’re frustrated. And it can be uncomfortable to attend Sunday supper with the family if you’ve just had a disagreement over an issue at work.

Here are some tips for you and your sibling to work together successfully.

  1. Have separate roles based on skill, not family hierarchy

Just because he started with the company first doesn’t mean that sibling should become the CEO. He may not be best suited for the job and would rather use his background, education and natural skill with numbers to serve as CFO. Perhaps another sister or brother is best suited to the role, and just needs a bit more training to take over the lead position, while a different sibling might have the perfects skills and personality to run the sales department.

  1. Understand, trust and respect each other’s contributions

I imagine Walt Disney got frustrated with Roy sometimes when he didn’t immediately jump on his latest vision for their company, being concerned with how they would finance it. And Roy was equally frustrated by Walt’s tendency to continually start new facets of the company without considering available resources.

But they were smart enough to realize they each played a crucial role in the company and that it took both of them to make it successful. They needed, respected and trusted each other.

  1. Communicate frequently and put it into writing

Any business needs open channels of communication on all levels. With family businesses, making sure decisions are communicated in writing is critical, as there tends to be more verbal communication among family members.

If you’re at a family picnic and make a decision about something crucial to the business, follow it up with an email to ensure you both understood the decision you made.

Hold regular, formal meetings with your siblings to discuss the business. Make sure every partner feels heard during the discussions and that notes are taken during the meeting and distributed afterwards.

  1. Establish, tweak your mission and goals together

Maybe you and your sibling started the company with one mission, but as you took your goods or products into the marketplace, you saw that a correction to that mission is necessary and your goals may shift. Or you’ve decided you should shut down one subsidiary in favor of focusing on another.

Discuss any changes or direction with your sibling partner. Don’t assume he or she has come to the same conclusion.

  1. Establish boundaries between work and family

If you and your siblings enjoy socializing outside of the office, that’s great. But if you’re forced to more than you’d like, maybe from pressure from dear old mom and dad, seek to minimize that time together, or just request it be a no-work-talk social event.

It won’t always be easy to be a partner with your sibling. When times are tough, remind yourself that you do love each other and you will always be family. Ultimately, you share the same goals of maintaining family harmony and growing a successful business.

 

 

Famous Sibling Partnerships that Worked

This is the first in a two-part series on siblings in family businesses. Part one will cover some successful sibling partnerships, while part two will discuss lessons for siblings who are in business together.

Running a family business is never easy, and can be particularly hard when siblings run it together. Ever since the days of Cain and Abel, siblings have fought and competed and vied for their parents’ attention. To make it worse, they often didn’t choose to be partners, but were forced into the situation by a parent.

But these partnerships can and do work. Siblings can run a successful business together. Here’s a look at three famous sibling partnerships.

The Wright Brothers, whose successful partnership led to the first functional flying machine.

The Wright Brothers, whose successful partnership led to the first functional flying machine.

The Wright Brothers

Although they weren’t the first to build a flying machine, Orville and Wilbur Wright invented aircraft controls that let a pilot steer an aircraft. They took lessons from their work repairing bicycles to figure out how to control an airplane.

Their first business was a printing shop, with Orville serving as publisher while Wilbur was the editor, when Wilbur was 22 and Orville was just 18. That business was short-lived, followed by the bicycle repair shop. Their interest in flying eventually led to the first successful airplane flights in Kitty Hawk, North Caroline in 1903.

While Wilbur supplied the research skills, Orville was the more adventurous and ambitious one. Their skills complemented each other, with Orville able to overcome any doubts Wilbur had. Wilbur said, “I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother that man would not fly for fifty years.”

Their partnership was a successful one for these brothers known as the fathers of aviation. Despite what the former president and chairman of American Airlines Robert Crandall said, “If the Wright Brothers were alive today, Orville would have to lay off Wilbur.”

The McDonalds

Brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald planned to make their millions in the movie business after a move to southern California from their native New Hampshire. When that didn’t work out, they sold barbeque and hot dogs.

In 1948, they revamped McDonald’s Famous BBQ by downsizing the menu, getting rid of car hops and streamlining production in the kitchen. They wanted a symbol for their restaurants, creating the famous Golden Arches, much to the distress of their architect. They also began franchising their concept, which caught the eye of Ray Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman.

Ray bought the national franchise rights in 1955, purchasing the company outright in 1961 for $2.7 million. Now the fast food giant takes in more than $27 billion a year.

The brother’s partnership worked well and Richard expressed no regret at selling the company. “I would have wound up in some skyscraper somewhere with about four ulcers and eight tax attorneys trying to figure out how to pay all my income tax,” he said.

The Disneys

We all know who Walt Disney is. Less famous is his older brother Roy, who was his co-founder of Walt Disney Productions. Walt was the visionary; Roy was the finance guy, generally a less flashy role.

“Walt had this idea [for Walt Disney World]. My job all along was to help Walt do the things he wanted to do. He did the dreaming. I did the building,” he once told reporters.

They started working together at a young age, delivering newspapers after their dad bought a route. Roy was a banker in Los Angeles when Walt moved there and they founded Disney Brothers Studio in 1923 to produce short live action, animated films. In 2014, the company reported revenue of more than $48 billion.

Despite any lingering childhood issues, siblings can form successful partnerships. Come back next week for tips on how to run a business with your brother or sister.

 

 

 

 

4 Reasons Family Businesses Have Survived

Forbes 2015 list of The World’s Billionaires recently came out and I was interested to see how many of the world’s richest people got there through affiliations with family businesses.

(#4) founded Inditex, the parent company of fashion retailers Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka, with his recently departed ex-wife Rosalia. They were both shop assistants and decided to try their hands at making baby clothes. They switched to nightgowns, and opened the first Zara shop in 1975 in Spain. The Inditex empire now has more than 6,000 outlets.

Charles and David Koch, tied for #6, are two of the four sons of Fred Koch who co-founded Koch Industries in 1940, which has more than $100 billion revenue annually. They bought their two brothers out in 1983 and own 43 percent of the company.

Christy (#8) and Jim Walton (#10) are also members of the Lucky Sperm Club. Christy was married to the late John Walton, one of Sam Walton’s sons. He, of course, founded WalMart, the world’s largest family firm. Jim is her brother-in-law, Sam’s youngest son.

Liliane Bettencourt (#10) also inherited her wealth from her father, Eugene Schueller, who founded the beauty company L’Oreal in 1907. In 2014, the company had sales in excess of 22 billion euros.

Family businesses are a major economic force in the world, making up 19 percent of the companies in the Fortune Global 500, up from 15 percent in 2005, according to an article in TheEconomist.com, “Business in the Blood.”

The article points to four reasons why huge companies have managed to stay under family control.

  1. Family firms were founded by a talented entrepreneur, like Sam Walton. If heirs continue to follow a successful formula and the founders’ principles, they can keep the business running.
  1. Family firms take a longer-term perspective. Businesses are often pressured to meet short-term goals to keep investors happy. Companies within the control of family members often look to the bigger, long-term picture, which can lead to greater profits.
  1. Family firms are less likely to take on debt. While this reluctance may limit growth sometimes, it can also make these businesses more resilient when the business is not going as well.
  1. Family businesses generally have better labor relations. It could be because workers are treated better or have more trust in the owners when they are part of a family and not members of a huge conglomerate who come and go.

I’ve worked with many family businesses in my decades as the Turnaround Authority, and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. When a family business is well run, it can have amazing staying power, produce billionaires and become a major player in the world economy.

Unethical Tech Workers Pose Danger to Your Business

Fraud and embezzlement are two dangers to every company. I’ve written a lot about instituting policies and steps to take to help make your company safe from employee theft. These tips primarily focus on those employees who have access to your financial accounts.

But they aren’t the only employees you need to worry about. Your IT employees may also be capable of potentially causing massive damage to your company, as pointed out in a recent article in Fortune magazine, “How much do you really know about the tech worker you just hired?”

We have all read the headlines about companies like Sony, Target and Anthem/Blue Cross being hacked by outsiders. What is less common knowledge are the problems that can come from within the company. Yes, your own IT employees could be a threat. They have access to valuable information, and if they desire, can threaten to make it public if you don’t pay up. It’s the new age of blackmail.

There is really no way to know how often this happens, because like with many cases of fraud or embezzlement, the corporation often keeps it quiet so it won’t draw unwanted publicity.

And even if an employee leaves, he or she can still potentially blackmail you. It’s been reported that Nokia regularly deals with security issues, including being blackmailed by a former employee who obtained classified information. According to an article in the Helsinki Times, in 2007 a blackmailer asked for millions of euros to protect an encryption key of Symbian phones. The release of that information could have caused millions of dollars in damage.

At least he’s a charitable blackmailer — he asked for half of the money in cash and for the other half to go to charity. Nokia made the donation and paid the ransom, delivering half of it in an ice hockey equipment bag. The blackmailer took the money and ran. The crime is still under investigation.

So how do you protect your company? Your tech employees most likely have access to potentially damaging information about your business. And it can be a whole lot more difficult and complicated to prevent tech blackmailers than it is to set up checks and balances on your financial accounts.

How to prevent problems with tech employees

The key is to start with your hiring practices. Companies desperate to hire qualified tech workers have been guilty of skipping over crucial steps when selecting new employees. Ken Springer, a former FBI agent and founder of Corporate Resolutions, suggested these steps in the Fortune article: Verify everything on the resume, ask your current IT people to check their references, let prospective employees know you will do a thorough background check and reward employees for referring good tech people to hire.

In addition to these tips, I would add some of my previously recommended tips on fraud prevention that can apply here as well, including:

  • Conduct credit checks. Exercise caution in considering any employee in a dire financial situation.
  • Always prosecute fraud. Make it clear you have a no-tolerance policy.
  • Train your managers to pay close attention to their employees’ behavior and for any changes in that behavior. See More Red Flags of Fraud and The Red Flags of Fraud.

Sadly, threats to the wellbeing of your company can come from both internal and external sources. It’s worth the time and expense to make sure you are hiring ethical and honest tech employees.

 

 

Excuses for Fraud: Now We’ve Heard It All

Call it the lighter side of fraud, if there is one. As a follow-up to my columns on fraud prevention, I thought I’d share some of the more entertaining excuses people have given for why they committed some type of fraud.

One guy from Glasgow tried to use the soap opera defense. He claimed the investigators were really seeking his “evil twin brother” who lived in Pakistan about the identity and benefit fraud he was accused of. Wait, it gets better. He had two Pakistani passports with the same children listed on them. Seems his evil twin had children born on the exact same days with the exact same names. Wow, what are the odds?

This one could be called the “50 Shades of Grey” excuse. One man was collecting housing benefit money in Great Britain while working but hadn’t informed authorities. He claimed he owed money to his landlady. Her efforts to collect included wearing high heels, brandishing a prop similar to those in the movie and chasing him down for “payment in kind.”

How about the “I never got that raise” excuse? A bookkeeper was once denied a monthly raise of $100. He was angry and decided to help himself to the company till, stealing exactly $100 a month. For 20 years, until he retired.

Then there’s the CFO of a bank in Tennessee who tried the “It’s the tractors fault” excuse. The case study was reported by the Journal of Accountancy of the CFO who invested a lot of money in a local tractor dealership. He borrowed from his own employer to increase his investment and when the investment soured, didn’t want to admit to his employer that he was no good with his own money. So he began stealing from the bank, and by the end of the year had helped himself to $150,000.

He became so enamored of stealing money that when a customer accidentally paid a note twice, this guy just signed his own name on it and put it into his checking account. That was his downfall. He was caught when the customer noticed the duplicate payment and they tracked it to his account. He spent three years in prison.

And finally, the “My ego was too big to admit failure” excuse. That’s what Russell Wasendorf Sr., who was the owner and CEO of Peregrine Financial Group, said when he admitted he had embezzled an estimated $215 million with forged bank statements over a period of close to 20 years.

Wasendorf received all bank statements from US Bank and was able to make counterfeit statements and deliver those to the accounting department. He also made forgeries of nearly every document that came from US Bank and established a PO box to intercept paperwork sent by regulators.

In a signed statement, he said he began stealing when his business was on the verge of failing if it didn’t receive additional capital. “I was forced into a difficult decision: Should I go out of business or cheat? I guess my ego was too big to admit failure. So I cheated.”

In 2013, Wasendorf was sentenced to 50 years in prison and was ordered to pay $215.5 million in restitution.

Don’t set yourself up to hear any of these excuses. Make sure you have adequate fraud prevention policies and measures in place. Check my previous columns on the topic and the chapter in my book, How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned From CEOs’ Mistakes. These excuses may be comical, but fraud is not.

7 Fraud Prevention Tips for Small Businesses

Last week’s post, More Red Flags of Fraud, discussed how management should be trained to always be on the lookout for behavioral changes in employees that may be red flags for fraud. As the column pointed out, 92 percent of the people who committed fraud exhibited certain behavioral traits. Recognizing those can be the key to detecting and preventing fraud.

Being aware of and dealing with fraud is crucial for any size business, but particularly for small businesses for three reasons:

  • They are disproportionately victimized by fraud
  • They are less likely to have fraud protection measures in place
  • There tends to be a greater level of trust in small offices

That’s according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (AFCE). Small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 100 employees, suffered 28.8 percent of all fraud cases, with an average median loss of $154,000.

The average median loss was higher for the largest entities, defined as more than 10,000 employees, at $160,000. But obviously that is a much smaller fraction of overall revenue than for smaller companies.

So you’re a small business and can’t afford the most expensive fraud detection systems. But there are plenty of measures you can enact to cut down potential for fraud in your company. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Select the right employees. Always check references and criminal records. You may want to conduct credit checks to make sure your potential employee is not in dire financial straits, which can set the stage for him to consider committing fraud.
  • Separate accounting duties. Many small businesses delegate all the financial dealings to one person, who opens the mail, writes checks, reconciles the accounts and generates invoices. This makes a business vulnerable. If you don’t have the staff to completely separate duties, then have some of the responsibility rotate around the office if possible.
  • Always prosecute theft and fraud. Make it clear that you have a no-tolerance policy towards any type of theft or fraud and you will prosecute any and all people involved. This is easy to include in an employee manual. “If you steal, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” If the policy is equally applied to all employees, no one, even in a small office, should feel mistrusted.
  • Conduct surprise audits. Ask to see the books and review invoices and accounts payable. Call a few of the businesses to make sure they are legit and that your company is doing business with them. Or call your CPA in for an unannounced mini audit to uncover any problems.
  • Have your controller, bookkeeper or CFO take off two consecutive weeks each year. I recommend this measure to all my clients as a way to prevent and detect fraud. In their absence, do their jobs. Open the mail, review deposits, correspond with vendors.
  • Purchase the ACFE’s Small Business Fraud Prevention Manual. At $59, it’s money well spent. The manual goes into detail on how employees steal. It also gives prevention tips and how to deal with dishonest employees.

And as long as you are buying books, add my book to the list. How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes contains a chapter called “Stop Fraud Before It Starts” and includes ways to create an office fraud as well as tips on preventing fraud in all size companies.

You’ve worked hard to create revenue for your business. Don’t let anyone steal any of it from you.

More Red Flags of Fraud

In a previous post, Red Flags of Fraud, I wrote about 5 red flags you should be on the lookout for in your employees’ behavior to prevent fraud in your company.

These are:

  1. An employee refuses to take vacation and rarely takes personal or sick days
  2. An employee gets annoyed at reasonable questions or offers unreasonable explanations
  3. An employee wants to remain in his or her current position
  4. An employee exhibits behavioral changes, undergoes a sudden change in lifestyle or has financial difficulties
  5. An employee has unusually close relationships with vendors

The 2014 Global Fraud Study done by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found of all cases they analyzed, 92 percent of the people who committed fraud exhibited certain behavioral traits, all of which are listed above.

fraudchartThe top two traits the study found are Living Beyond Means (43.8 percent) and Financial Difficulties (33 percent), as listed in #4. I’d like to expand on these two behaviors, as they may be harder to detect than the others above and on the chart you see here.

If an employee begins to talk about financial difficulties, too much credit card debt or high medical bills, that’s the time to pay a bit more attention to him. Pressure from financial problems due to things such as overspending, a divorce or health problems can set the stage for an employee to consider fraud as a way out of his difficulties.

Another behavioral change to note is when an employee who may have previously complained about being overworked, underpaid or passed over for a promotion no longer talks about workplace issues and seems more content although nothing has changed.

If she is committing fraud, she may feel that she is evening the score and taking what she considers is due to her. She now feels happier in the workplace.

Changes in lifestyle can be a bit trickier to determine. An employee may start driving an expensive new car, talk about a new second home or take high-end vacations. She may chat about moving to a new home in an upscale neighborhood or bring in photos of a new boat.

It can be tricky to question someone about these purchases and where the money came from. And they could be explained by claiming to have gotten an unexpected inheritance, or a spouse with a new high-paying job.

Or, as often happens, the money is spent somewhere the employee would not be eager to share at his workplace. Michael Dennehy embezzled over $1.7 million from Bexar Waste in San Antonio by forging company checks for more than six years. He admitted that he spent it on escort services and gambling. As a married father of five, he probably wasn’t sharing those stories in the break room.

Make observing behavioral changes part of your fraud prevention program and share this information with your management team, so they can be vigilant about these behaviors.

Fraud prevention is vital for any business. The median loss caused by fraud in the ACFE study was $145,000, with 22 percent of the cases costing a company more than $1 million.

Come back next time when I’ll discuss why small businesses are disproportionately affected by fraud and what small business owners can do to protect themselves.