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Working with Your Siblings: The Good, Bad and Ugly!

At a recent Commerce & Industry Association of NJ (CIANJ) Family Business Roundtable, three family leaders shared their insights on how they have managed thei companies and their families - with the businesses remaining successful and the family members still speaking to each other!

Cathy Choi, President of Bulbrite in Moonachie, led off the panel discussion emphasizing that one of the key reasons for their family business' longevity is that they have always focused on the business first, making wise business decisions and establishing the proper processes and procedures that create a strong infrastructure.  As a result, they have eliminated many of the emotional obstacles that often plague family members working together - especially siblings. The rules were carefully spelled out right from the beginning and they follow them consistently so that no one receives privileged treatment and all conversations are polite and respectful. They leave their family issues at home and have carefully cultivated solid communication channels that eliminate misunderstandings and conflict. Having a solid foundation built on respect and concern for each other - along with a shared passion for the business' success - enabled a smooth and seamless transition when Cathy's father, Andrew, passed the title of President to her.  Maintaining three separate circles: leadership, ownership and family, is the formula for Bulbrite's success and for the family's ability to avoid common traps. 

Each panelist had their own unqiue situation even though there were many issues they have in common. Kevin Luing, Chairman of the Board at Berkeley College, is joined by his three siblings in this family enterprise.  Much like his colelagues in manufacturing and distribution who joined him at the roundtable, Kevin's family had to adhere to fair policies and treat each other with respect and courtesy to make the situation work well. They work hard to avoid an air of entitlement based on their last name and instead prove their value to the organiozation by their effort, skills and commitment. When they were ready to name a college president, they made the th,oughtful decision to select a nonfamily member from the Board who all four brothers trusted and respected. This move drastically reduced any chances for friction amon the siblings and put the authority in the hands of a well-regarded and long time colleague.

Capezio was founded 130 years ago and today four families are actively involved in the company. But according to fourth generation Lisa Giacoio Egan, no one is there by obligation or force. Everyone that has chosen to work in the family business has done so because it is their passion - not because they feel they have no options. She is transparent and honest and respectful in her role as VP of Human Resources and while she is not on the board (her brother is), she understands how important her attitude is in setting the tone and culture for the company. They follow the "golden rule" when dealing with each other and with nonfamily employees and as a result they have enjoyed decades as a category leader in dance apparel and other related items with a global reach and a reputation fior excellence.

Whether the company began in 1971 or the 1880s, families in business want to avoid playing "family fued" and they can do so by putting the business' needs ahead of family issues and leveraging their passion, their shared history and by embracing a long term perspective.

Ira Kaltman, an attorney at Beattie Padovano, rounded out this important conversation expanding on the emotional, fiancial and business view points of the other panelists by sharing with the families  how critical it is to make important decisions early. Never put off making important business decisions and always remember that the company comes first!

How does your family busienss rate itself?  Are you leveraging all the benefits of a family-run organziation to outperform your competitiors or are you allowing family dynamics to drag you down?