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.



Work-Life Balance: The #1 Thing to Offer

This is part two of a two-part series on the growing importance of offering a work-life balance to employees in your company.

To compete in recruiting the best new employees and to retain your current employees, you need to offer work-life balance programs, as I discussed in my last column.

So how do you go about doing this? Is it going to cost you a lot of money to implement these programs and result in lost productivity? It doesn’t have to.

The number one consideration for work-life balance is flexibility. That’s what many potential employees value most. Being chained to a desk from 9-5 with a strict two-week vacation policy every year is an old-fashioned and outdated model.

imagesWork-Life Balance and Flexibility

Here are a few ways to bring flexibility to your workplace. And surprisingly, many of these measures result in increased productivity as your employees are happier, feel more independent and motivated.

  • Offer flexible schedules and telecommuting

Stagger starting and quitting times if appropriate. Some people prefer to start work earlier or later to avoid the traffic during rush hour or to leave earlier in the day to exercise or be with their children.

While some jobs can’t be performed at home, many can be done better outside an office so consider telecommuting some or all of the time. Salespeople who spend a good amount of time on the road could be more productive catching up between sales calls by going to their home office or working in a coffee shop rather than making an appearance in an office.

One PR firm in Atlanta allows all employees to work from home every Friday. They are still connected to each other online. Many of them feel that they are more productive at home than in their shared office.

Make it easy for employees to take off a few hours one day to attend a school event, and make up the time at home or on a different day.

  • Be flexible on PTO

I’ve written before about companies that put no limits on vacation time. Maybe that doesn’t work for your company but you can make sure employees have enough time to take off to recharge their batteries. Increase their PTO each year, even if it’s just by a small amount, to motivate and retain employees.

  • Be flexible and understanding about family emergencies

Allow unpaid leave if an employee has a health crisis, a family emergency or is caring for a sick relative. Chances are good that few employees will need to take advantage of this benefit, but just knowing that it’s an option makes employees feel better about working for your company.

  • Provide child care options if possible

If your company is big enough and demand warrants it, check into setting up an on-site childcare facility. Or partner with one nearby and provide a discount to your employees.

Employees Like to Feel Heard

To best meet the needs of your employees, consider conducting a survey to ask them what they would like to see added to your company. That has the added benefit of allowing employees to feel like their opinions are being heard and considered by management.

Just remember, the key is flexibility. When your employees feel that your company is responsive to their needs and their desire for flexible working options, they will be happier and more productive employees. And that is always good for your bottom line.

Why You Want Your Employees to Take Vacation

Many people refer to the third Monday of January as Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year. The holidays are over, the weather is cold and drab and there is less sunlight.

If you’ve made some typical resolutions for the new year, you may have given up foods you love, or alcohol for the month. Rather than cheery holiday cards that arrived in your mailbox in December, now the mail just brings bills from purchases you made this past month.

Here’s my prescription for battling Blue Monday. Plan a vacation. Not only will it give you something to look forward to, taking time off is good for your health and your productivity. And encourage your employee to take time off as well.

While many Americans leave vacation days unused every year, according to a survey done by Glassdoor, a career website, 15 percent of U.S. employees did not use any in 2013.

And they even brag about it, believing they are more productive and proving themselves more dedicated and valuable than their co-workers. They may believe it helps ensure job security.

But studies have shown that not using all of your vacation is actually hazardous to your health. The Framington Heart Study found that taking vacation increases your longevity and decreases your changes of dying from a heart-related cause.

And taking a vacation can actually make your more productive. In an interview with ABC News, Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles said, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound. Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

Recognizing the importance of time off, many companies have taken unique approaches to make sure their employees refresh themselves.

Rather than mandate a maximum number of vacation days, HubSpot instituted a minimum number. Every employee has to take two weeks off every year. The Motley Fool awards the Fool’s Errand prize to one lucky employee. The company draws a name of an employee who has been with the company at least a year. The lucky winner gets $1,000 and two weeks off, must leave immediately and have no contact with the office. And if you work for FullContact, you receive $7,500 to finance a vacation.

Evernote began offering unlimited paid vacation. But some employees were confused and thought that meant they shouldn’t take any vacation. So the company offered each employee $1,000 to get away, and “come back with a stretched-out mind,” said Phil Libin, chief executive, as quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

There is another excellent reason to encourage a two-week vacation. As the Turnaround Authority, I always recommend that banks and financial institutions require the CFO to take two consecutive weeks off to detect and prevent fraud.

As I write in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEO’s Mistakes,” during his absence, do his job. Sit at his desk. Open his mail. Review all of the deposits. Talk to his secretary or assistant. Just see what happens. This method has long been highly successful for CFOs, and banks have used this same technique for ages. If you don’t find anything unusual, that’s wonderful. Unfortunately, though, you might uncover a detail worth noticing.”Having another set of eyes review transactions can uncover fraud and some misdemeanors.

Taking time off is good for your health, your productivity and your outlook, and that of your employees. It’s also an opportunity for you to spot potential fraud.

So rather than dwell on the dreary days of January, plan a getaway. Even if it’s just a weekend away, you’ll feel refreshed. And Blue Monday will be just another day.

How Office Gossip is Hurting Your Business

This is the first of a two-part series on office gossip. Today, I focus on the dangers of office gossip and my next column will share my top tips on how to deal with it.

I’ve talked about my nickname, Monty Hall, because I engage in “Let’s Make a Deal” on a daily basis in my career as a turnaround authority. Sometimes, I also feel like a contestant on the game show “To Tell the Truth.”

When I take over the management of a business and speak with employees at all levels of an organization, I sometimes hear wildly varied stories of situations in the company, which may or may not be true. It becomes my job to separate fact from fiction.

I often determine that a lot of what I’m hearing is not based on reality, but is actually office gossip. If you think that employees hanging around the proverbial water cooler is a harmless break in their day, you may be shocked to learn just how much that chatter is costing you.

BusinessInsider.com compiled a list of surprising ways that employees cost companies billions in the workplace. The article cites that “smartphones, time-wasting websites and gossip can cost U.S. companies an estimated $650 billion a year.”

In addition to the time wasted, office gossip is also dangerous to the health of your company in these ways:

It reduces productivity

It’s common sense. If employees are spending their time spreading, listening to and trying to verify gossip, they are not focused on their jobs and are not working.

It undermines morale

If employees hear rumors about trouble with the company, they may start to feel anxious about their jobs. Instead of focusing their attention on excelling at their jobs, they may instead start looking for another one.

It creates a toxic work environment

Gossip can create cliques in the workplace and can be destructive to the teamwork necessary to complete projects, as employees take sides and begin to distrust each other. Employees who don’t want to work in that toxic environment may leave to find a more positive workplace.

Reputations can be destroyed

Let’s say an unfounded rumor started that one of your employees has been missing deadlines on an important project. Managers may be reluctant to work with that employee in the future, damaging her reputation and limiting her career opportunities.

It can cost you customers

It’s happened to me several times. I’m waiting for service at a store or have a meeting at an office and I hear the employees gossiping, apparently oblivious to the fact that I can hear every word. They complain about their long hours or that a fellow employee was taking off early that day. Gossiping employees can make dealing with your business an unpleasant task and people may be tempted to take their business elsewhere.

There is no doubt about it. Office gossip is detrimental to your company and to your employees. Read my next post for my top tips on how you can cut down on the gossip and its destructive effects.



Which Diet is Right for Your Business?

I’ve tried a lot of diets over the past 20 years: low carb, South Beach, you name it. I’d lose a few pounds but none of them really helped me keep the weight off. Then last summer I decided to go vegan. More than just a diet, giving up meat and dairy products was really a lifestyle change for me.

This new way of eating worked for me. I lost 35 pounds without suffering and the weight has stayed off.

I didn’t add the extra weight over a few self-indulgent weeks. It was gradual — I added a half-pound here and there, and 10 years later I realized I was uncomfortable with my weight and wanted to make a change.

Companies do the same thing. They get fat gradually just like I did. They add a few employees, buy an additional manufacturing facility and new equipment and find out 10 years down the road that the business has gotten a little out of control and it owes too much money.

With big companies it’s easy to cover up these mistakes. Like I did, you can kind of ignore it for a while, and in my case, just buy a bigger pair of pants.

But you want to do something about the situation before it gets out of control. One of the first things I do as the Turnaround Authority when I’m called in to help struggling companies is put the business on a diet. But the diet will be different for each company — just like different diets to lose weight work for different people, one size does not fit all when it comes to selecting a diet for a company.

First, I need to determine where the fat in the company is by looking at every element. We may need to eliminate product lines that aren’t margin contributors. We need to take a fresh look at all the personnel as some people may no longer be needed or may not be working efficiently. We may need to sell some equipment to reduce expenses. We may need to renegotiate debt.

So while a diet heavy on the grapefruit may work wonders for one person to eliminate fat and feel healthy again, cutting product lines for a company and renegotiating its debt may work to get a company back on its feet again.

Companies are often resistant to my telling them we have to cut back, just like people are when told they may need to slow down on the bread and potatoes. But it’s all about getting the company healthy again and on the right track.

I tell my clients that my goal is to get to somebody before they have a heart attack, or a bank calls a loan. I was once meeting with a potential client and he was flustered and his face was red. I mentioned that he looked stressed and I wanted to save him before he had a heart attack. He told me he would think about it.

A week later he called me and told me that he had been standing in line at the Varsity for a chili dog when he collapsed. Fortunately, two EMTs were standing next to him and rushed him to Emory Crawford Long. You guessed it — he had a heart attack. “I should have hired you last week,” he said, and hired me on the spot.

Every company needs to take a look at reducing waste and cutting fat. The key is to remember that when it comes to putting your company on a diet, it needs to be a customized one that eliminates waste and gets it on a healthy path.

Tips on Dealing with Your Banker

I’ve been on both sides of that big banker’s desk. Early in my career I worked as a banker, which gave me invaluable experience on learning how the money guys think. We learned the things that would make us fire CEOs and shut down companies.

These were lessons that were invaluable to me during my entire career as the Turnaround Authority. I know what bankers, investors and other creditors are looking for when they analyze a business. I know what they want to hear from CEOs and business owners.

Businesses need money to operate. That means they generally need bankers and investors — the money guys. But many CEOs treat their bankers as the opposition, like Mr. Potter, “the richest and meanest man in the county” in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Having a good relationship with your banker is so important, I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” which covers the 10 C’s of bank relationships for CEOS.

Here are just a few tips on how to have a good relationship with your banker. (For more info, you can always buy my book!)

1. Always keep your banker informed

Communication is one of the 10 C’s I discuss in my book and is the key to having a good relationship with your banker. We’ve all gone through difficult situations where we didn’t want to share bad news with someone, preferring to stick our head in the sand or hope the problem goes away. But not telling your banker when your company is having problems paying a vendor, collecting receivables or going through a cash flow crunch is the exact wrong thing to do. In fact, if your banker finds out you have not been disclosing crucial financial information, it can be the quickest path to having your bank loan called or to losing your financing.

2. Have contingency plans

Bankers and other money people like stability. They want to know you have a plan in place in the event that one of the 3 D’s happens — death, disability or disappearance. Yeah, I’ve had a few CEOs vanish on me. You can add that to the list of behaviors that won’t endear you to a banker.

While acting as CEO at one company I hosted a cookout with the employees. You’d be surprised what you learn while chatting around the grill. One employee mentioned excess inventory purchasing. Turned out it was a case of multi-million dollar fraud. The previous CEO knew something was wrong but didn’t deal with it. I found the problem and had four executives arrested. The CEO? Gone with the wind.

Do you know what will happen to your business if any of the three D’s occurs? Make a plan and show it to your banker.

3. Demonstrate good character

Do what you say you will do. Make your payments when they are due. Keep your banker informed. If you have and demonstrate good character your banker is more inclined to work with you, rather than against you.

The money people want to trust you — indeed, they are placing a great deal of trust in you when they close on that loan to your company. Make them happy they extended that trust.

A banker can be a powerful ally for your business. One of the best things you can do for your business is to have a good working relationship with your banker.

Look for me November 10 at 4:30 at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. I’ll be discussing my book,  “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information. Hope to see you there!



The Path of a Peanut Seller

It started as a blog post I wrote in January and now the moment that changed my life as a teenager is a video in the Moments series on the Saporta Report. And it all started with peanuts.

Please click this link to view the short video and find out how I gamed the system in the peanut-selling business, which led to my career as The Turnaround Authority. I no longer work for peanuts.

Grant Field in the 1960s, where I began my peanut-selling career.

Grant Field in the 1960s, where I began my peanut-selling career.







The Red Flags of Fraud

In a continuing series on fraud, this week’s column is about how to spot the signs that an employee may be engaged in fraudulent activity. Please see last week’s column, “Employee Tips Key to Fraud Preventionfor tips on decreasing fraud in your company.

It happens every day. Employees are caught stealing from their companies. Then the messy business of uncovering the amount of money stolen, how it was taken and how to prevent it in the future begins.

Fraud not only hurts businesses financially — an estimated $9 billion a year is lost to fraud in the US annually — but it takes a toll on the company in other ways. Employees are demoralized and time is lost to dealing with the results of the fraud.

A strong fraud prevention program is critical. Part of that program should include managers being trained to be on the lookout for red flags that employees may be involved in fraudulent activity. Here are just a few of those red flags.

imgres1. Refusal to take vacation and rarely taking personal or sick days

Isn’t that great to have such a dedicated employee? Except that often the employee who never takes off is not dedicated to the company. That employee is dedicated to continuing to perpetrate the fraudulent activity he or she has begun, and doesn’t take off work because of the risk the activity may be uncovered.

I’ve mentioned dear Aunt Tess in this column before. She was the beloved payroll clerk who showed up the day after she had major surgery to hand out the paychecks. In 25 years she hadn’t missed a payroll and a little thing like an appendectomy wouldn’t keep her away.

Turned out she had to show up to handle the paychecks for her non-existent employees whose creation had allowed her to steal around $100,000 year from the company.

Be wary of the employee who never takes off work.

2. Getting annoyed at reasonable questions or offering unreasonable explanations

If a simple question about how an invoice is handled, or who double checks the list of vendors or changes to payroll evokes a defensive or irritated response, don’t back down until you get an answer. The same is true if the responses don’t make sense or sound unreasonable. Guilty people will act defensive when questioned about why they do things a certain way.

3. An employee wants to remain in his or her current position

Staying in the same position is not necessarily a bad thing, and many people enjoy staying in a job that they feel comfortable with for years. But if that person turns down opportunities to advance or otherwise better his or her situation in some manner, that can be a warning sign that they are afraid of being unable to continue their fraudulent activity or that it may be uncovered if they leave or change their position.

4. An employee that exhibits behavioral changes, undergoes a sudden change in lifestyle or has financial difficulties

If an employee starts talking about his new lake home, wearing an expensive watch or driving a new car with no explanation for his new-found wealth, that may be worth a closer look. If she starts acting more stressed at work for no discernible reason and claims all is fine at home, that could be a sign that engaging in the fraudulent activity is causing stress.

Having financial difficulties can be a precursor to fraudulent activity. A law student in Atlanta was arrested for stealing more than $100,000 of jewelry at his part-time job at a department store. When he was caught, he said he did it because he had so much debt in student loans.

5. An employee has unusually close relationship with vendors

Friendships do develop in the business world when we deal closely with each other and are often a source of pleasure in our work environment. However, an employee that seems to spend a lot of time with a vendor could indicate a kickback scheme that involves vendor overbilling.

Be on the lookout for these red flags at your company. To learn more about why fraud occurs, read my next column later this week about the Fraud Triangle.

How Not to Lay Off Staff

The chairman of a network of local websites in the Northeast sent the following email to his staff on a recent Friday afternoon. It was a follow-up to an email they received earlier that day informing them that the CEO was resigning.

“Monday morning we will share with you the news about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. The news is good—but you’ll need to sit tight while we finalize our plans. Check your email about our company-wide phone conference early Monday morning.  …I am pumped about the prospect of working with you to build a great company.”

urlIt’s nice to get a positive, hopeful email from your chairman in our still-struggling economic times, isn’t it? But what happened on Monday could hardly be classified as good news.

That morning employees at Daily Voice were told that it was shutting down 11 bureaus in Massachusetts and laying off everyone in those offices with no severance pay. The Chairman had flat out lied to the employees.

That’s just one example of how not to handle a layoff. You’ve probably heard plenty stories of bad layoffs. There was the woman who received a FedEx package at home with her severance in it. Problem was no one told her she was being laid off. Or the woman who was lying in a hospital bed when her boss thoughtfully came to visit, bringing her a bouquet of flowers. And a severance check.

Another woman named Sylvia found a document, available for public viewing on the company’s shared hard drive, called SylviaFired.doc. She read it and spent her last few hours at the company correcting its many spelling and grammar errors. If you’re being let go like that, at least all the words should be spelled correctly.

At one small ad agency where a husband and wife both worked, the husband got laid off. Then a few hours later his wife was laid off as well because the creative director thought she would be uncomfortable working in the office that laid off her husband. More uncomfortable than losing both incomes in one day?

One of the worst stories I’ve heard is about a company that evacuated hundreds of employees for a fire drill. They were all standing outside when a person on a loudspeaker said, “Due to the ongoing recession and bad business climate, the company is laying off 50 percent of its staff. So when the announcement finishes I ask all of you to move back to the building. If your employee card does not give you access to the building, it means you have been laid off and will not be allowed inside the building. All of your belongings will be sent to you.”

That sounds like the premise of a horrible reality TV show, but in this case half the people get kicked off the island.

In my position as The Turnaround Authority I’ve had to lay off hundreds of people. It’s never easy and I do it with full recognition of how losing their jobs will affect the employees’ lives and those of their families. But sometimes it is the only way to save the company and employment of hundreds, if not thousands of other people and their families.

While unpleasant, there is a right way and a wrong way to lay off someone.

Stay tuned for my next blog post for the right way to lay off an employee. And there are no fire drills or bouquets involved.