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.

How Loyal Employees Contribute to the Bottom Line

 

This is part one of a two-part series on the importance of developing and maintaining loyal employees. In part one, we explore why every company should focus on having loyal employees and how doing so contributes to its revenue. Part two offers tips of how to develop loyal employees.

When is the last time you heard about employees risking their jobs to stand up for a multi-millionaire? Or going so far as to organize a customer boycott? That was the situation at Demoulas Market Basket Inc. in Massachusetts where an ugly family feud was playing out this summer.

More than 200 office and warehouse workers walked off the job to support their ousted CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. Artie T., as he is known to the company’s 25,000 employees, owned with other family members 49.5 percent of the supermarket chain. His cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and his family owned the other 50.5 percent and ousted Artie T. in June.

Employees protest the ouster of popular CEO Artie T. last summer. (Photo from www.bloomberg.com. Photographer: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Employees protest the ouster of popular CEO Artie T. last summer. (Photo from http://www.bloomberg.com. Photographer: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The company, founded in 1917, has $4.3 billion in annual sales and family members had been fighting bitterly since 1990 when there was a dispute over the transfer of shares. Lawyers have racked up a lot of fees in the ensuing court battles.

Hourly employees risked their jobs and urged customer boycotts for their boss, estimated to be worth around $675 million. Customers responded and boycotted the stores, even taping receipts from rival markets to store windows. Some analysts put the losses at more than $10 million a day.

Why? As one employee said in an article covering the feud put it: “We are a family and they messed with our dad,” said Charlene Kalivas, 57, a longtime Market Basket employee.

Artie T. won their loyalty by showing he cared about them. He did things like covering medical bills for employees’ sick family members, paying employees who were too ill to work, giving them good wages, decent benefits, Christmas bonuses and personally calling employees when a parent had died. “He’s one of us,” said a protesting employee. “He comes here and he knows everyone by name and treats us fairly.”

The decades-long family feud ended in August when Artie T. and his sisters agreed to purchase the 50.5 percent of the company owned by the other side of the family.

It was a costly, ugly family feud. And the winner was the man who had worked hard to win the devotion and loyalty of his employees.

Yet, you don’t hear too much about the need for businesses to retain loyal employees. They focus more on customer retention and spend millions on retaining them. How much do they spend on keeping loyal employees? Do they care?

They should. The long-term success of any company depends on finding and retaining qualified employees. For all you hard numbers people, consider this: researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed 3,000 companies and found that if a company invested 10 percent of its revenue on capital improvements, it increased is productivity by 3.9 percent. If it invested the same amount in developing employee capital, its productivity more than doubled, to 8.5 percent.

It’s not just because treating your employees fairly is the right thing to do. It’s also the profitable thing to do.

Come back for Part Two when I’ll discuss ways to build employee loyalty.

 

 

Family Businesses That Have Thrived and Survived

During my long career as the Turnaround Authority, I’ve worked with many family businesses. The particular challenge of working with family members as opposed to just co-workers is that they are emotionally connected to each other, which has led to some rather, well, let’s say interesting interactions. Like the time a disgruntled son pulled a kitchen knife on his mom. Fortunately, family disputes don’t generally involve weapons. But the fact is it can be difficult to keep them running. Seventy percent either fail or are sold before the second generation and just 10 percent survive to the third. That’s a lot of companies when you consider that about 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies are family controlled. And family businesses account for 50 percent of the gross domestic product of the U.S. But many family-owned companies not only survive, they thrive.

Laird & Company owns the first liquor license distributed in the United States. The company remains family run.

Laird & Company owns the first liquor license distributed in the United States. The company remains family run.

We are familiar with many of the large, well-known family businesses that include Wal-Mart (Walton family), Mars (Mars family), News Corp. (Murdoch family) and Comcast (Roberts family). Here are a few interesting family businesses you most likely haven’t heard of, one from each of the past three centuries, that are still thriving. • Laird & Company owns the #1 liquor license distributed in the United States. Alexander Laird began producing Applejack in 1698 for his friends and neighbors. One of his descendants built the Colts Neck Inn in 1717 and sold Applejack, with the first commercial sale recorded in 1780. The company even survived Prohibition by producing brandy for medicinal purposes. Seems a lot of people were feeling poorly during those 14 years. • Rogers Funeral Home in Frankfort, Kentucky, has been helping people say goodbye to dearly departed loved ones since 1802. It is now owned by Mary Anna Rogers, whose daughter Doherty Rogers Reynolds and her husband Tim operate the home. They are the seventh generation of the Rogers family to own the business. • The Butt family still operates H.E.B. Grocery with 300 stores, primarily in Texas. Florence Butt opened the first C.C. Butt Grocery Store in Kerrville in 1906 with an investment of $60. Last year the company had $20 billion in revenue and was listed as #14 on Forbes list of America’s Largest Private Companies. I’d say that investment paid off. Death, alcohol and food. Maybe it helped that these businesses deal with products and services with a constant demand. So I was curious to see what the country’s oldest family-owned restaurant is, considering the high failure rate in that industry. The National Restaurant Association reports that 30 percent of new restaurants fail in the first year, with another 30 percent closing in the next two years. The distinction of the country’s oldest family-owned restaurant goes to Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In 1840, Antoine Alciatore, a native of France, made his way to Louisiana where he felt at home among the French speakers there and began serving French-Creole cuisine. His son Jules ran the restaurant after his death and invented the famous Oysters Rockefeller. While the odds may seem against family businesses, many do survive into the third generation, and beyond. Of course, a business can increase its odds by hiring trusted advisors to help them navigate difficult times. In my next two posts, I’ll discuss how to find the best advisors for your business, and then how to make the most of their participation in your business.

It Takes Finesse to Fire a Family Member

Mitchell Kaneff, the CEO of Arkay Packaging, told the story of firing his father in the article “Why I Fired My Father From the Family Business.” Although his father had made him president, his dad remained as CEO and still made a lot of the decisions.

Their completely different styles of management came to a head one day with the COO claiming he was resigning as he found it impossible to work with two men with such different styles.

So Mitchell called his dad and gave him a choice — he could either buy Mitchell out or Mitchell would fire him. Expecting his father to be angry and hurt, he was stunned when his father instead replied, “I am so proud of you. You’re right. It’s time for me to leave.”

Any kind of situation that involves letting someone go rarely goes that smoothly. Unfortunately, as the turnaround authority, I’ve been in the situation many times of having to fire people. It’s never more difficult than when it’s a family member.

Once you have terminated a regular employee, your ties are severed and both the company and the employee can move on. Not so with a family member, where heated emotions and resentments over the termination can affect the family dynamic for years.

That’s why it’s so critical to handle firing a family member in the correct way, as an article in this week’s Wall Street Journal pointed out, “You’re Fired … But I hope to see you at the next family reunion.”

Because ties with this person are not severed and you will continue to see each other, it takes a lot of planning and delicacy to terminate a family member the right way.

The article quotes Raymond Lucas, senior vice president of financial planning and training for Integrated Financial Partners, who said, “Remember: When all is said and done, you need to be able to sit at the Thanksgiving table together.”

The first step is to work with the family member to see if the situation can improve. Perhaps he or she could be moved to a different position or get more training to be more effective in the job. But when it reaches a point that it’s apparent it is not going to work out, there are a few things to do before meeting with the employee.

First, document the reasons you are taking this step. Then try to get agreement on the termination from other family members working in the business so you have a united front.

When it’s time to terminate the employee, meet with him privately. A crucial step is to let him know that you value his happiness and you realize he is not happy with the current situation. Make it clear you will support his efforts to find another more suitable position. Another important step is to listen to his side and make him feel heard about his situation.

It’s never an easy situation to handle, but doing it the right way can make a huge difference in your family. For more tips on handling this delicate process, please read my column “How to Fire Grandma and Still Get Invited to Sunday Dinner.”

You Work Together, You Play Together: Surviving the Holidays

I saw a funny card recently that read, “My family is temperamental. Half temper and half mental.” The actor Jim Carrey once said, “Maybe there is no actual place called hell. Maybe hell is just having to listen to our grandparents breathe through their noses when they’re eating sandwiches.”

Yes, we love our families. But sometimes the holidays can mean a little too much togetherness, bringing more opportunities for family conflict. A recent survey on the travel website Hipmunk showed that 18% of people travel during the holidays to avoid their families.

Keeping peace on earth during the holiday season can be particularly challenging when you own or work for a family business. Problems can arise when difficulties around the conference table make their way to the dining room table and tensions emerge during family get-togethers. It can be tough to leave the working world behind.

Here are a few tips to keep the holidays merry and bright and ensure you enjoy your family, even those you see every day at the office.

1. Agree to Keep Certain Topics Off the Table

The last week before the holidays, during a meeting or through an email, suggest that the family agree to not engage in certain discussions until work resumes in the new year. Acknowledge that while some pending issues may be important, the holidays are a time to take a break from work.

If anyone attempts to bring up potentially divisive topics, defer them. Food is always a good distraction. Say something like, “Let’s discuss that in the office on Monday. How about we get a slice of Aunt Martha’s coconut cake?”

2. Plan Outdoor Activities or Group Games

If you have a large family and everyone is stuck inside for long periods of time, people may become irritated from the close quarters. If possible, take the action outside where kids can run around and the adults are able to move freely without knocking over a plate of appetizers. Buy a small fire pit and gather people around that for warmth. We all feel better if we can spread out a bit and engage in physical exercise if possible.

If the weather is not conducive to going outside, try some group games like charades or one of my new favorites, Telestrations. This one is guaranteed to get the group laughing. Rather than griping over the sloppiness of Uncle Fred’s expense reports, you can laugh at his sloppy drawings during the game.

3. Spend Some Time on Home Improvement

No, I don’t mean head to Home Depot and start working on those shelves in your basement. This suggestion comes from a quote by businessman Bo Bennett, who said, “Spend some time this weekend on home improvement; improve your attitude toward your family.”

You may not be able to change your family, but you can resolve to change how you react to them. Try not to let their annoying habits or complaints get you down. One thing is for certain, every family dinner eventually comes to an end and you’ll be able to go home again.

Remember what Lee Iacocca said: “The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family.