With 35 years in business under her belt, Sharla Feldscher says she has hired some excellent employees. But when her daughter Hope Horwitz came on board three years ago as vice president and partner, Feldscher discovered her best employee ever.
"No one cares as much as Hope does about the business succeeding," says Feldscher, president of Feldscher Horwitz Public Relations. "The business represents her future as well. She handles our largest account and our clients really like her."
For Baptiste Bouygues, who co-founded the unisex fragrance ORMAIE Paris with his mother, Mare-Lise Jonak, family business makes success possible.
"Working with my mother is exceptional in terms of creating a firm foundation for the business," says Bouygues. "We both share the same values and vision. At the same time, the business benefits from the know-how of an older generation and the modern eye of a younger generation."
Benefits of Running a Family Business
Working in a family business has a variety of unique benefits that you won't find with other types of partnerships.
"Thanks to our strong relationship as mother and daughter, we know how the other person handles pressure and crises," says Lou Childs. (Three years ago, Childs opened Dovetail Essentials—makers of the travel crib SlumberPod—with her daughter Katy Mallory.)
"The unconditional love Katy and I have for each other goes a long way when working together," continues Childs. "We back each other up 100 percent."
Running a family business also means you can be honest with one another, notes Pam Besheer, director of donations at MADI Apparel, a 501(c)(3) organization that produces an underwear and loungewear line.
With every garment purchase, MADI donates to women in need and runs a job-training program for at-risk women. Besheer works with her daughter Hayley Besheer Santell, the company's CEO.
"Having ready access to the CEO helps when deadlines are short, and we need to make decisions," she says. "We're both very honest with each other. If I think she has a harebrained idea, I will tell her. I can also recognize when she's stressed and nudge her to take a little time off, or vice versa."
Drawbacks of Working With Family
Not surprisingly, there can be a few cons to running a family business. One of the biggest is the blurring of boundaries and roles.
"I have to remind myself to refrain from being a 'helicopter' mom," says Besheer. “Hayley is the decision maker, and I am the advisor. I work longer hours for her than I would in another job, because I'm passionate about her cause and want to see her succeed."
Leave your ego at home... If you know that one of your family members has more experience or is better at certain things, make sure to let the person do his or her thing.
—Tatjana Berkowitsch, co-owner, 519 Broome
There have been times when the lines have blurred for Feldscher, she admits
"I always have to ask myself, 'Am I a mother, grandmother or a boss/partner?'" she says.
"It can be challenging to switch gears from business partner to grandmother and mother," Childs agrees. "Sometimes when we're trying to enjoy non-business time together, we slip back into talk about product development, marketing, inventory, etc."
If you want to succeed at running a family business, it could help to keep the following five tips in mind.
1. Respect each other's perspective.
"In an intergenerational business relationship, be mindful of the other person's stage in life and respect their perspective and life experiences, or lack thereof," suggests Angela Majette, who developed the business and social networking platform Black Connect with her son Marshawn Dickson, Jr.
2. Avoid acting like a parent.
For mothers, it's important to act like co-workers in a family business, not parents, advises Besheer.
"I avoid micromanaging and acting like her mom in front of co-workers. And I try really hard not to cry [with pride] when she does something amazing," she says.
"Working together means treating each other as equals, which is very different from the hierarchal mother/daughter relationship," adds certified executive coach Kathy Taberner, who founded the Institute of Curiosity, which teaches parenting and communication skills, with her daughter Kirsten Siggins.
3. Present a united front.
"Leave your ego at home in a family business," advises Tatjana Berkowitsch, who owns the bar 519 Broome with her son David Berkowitsch.
"If you know that one of your family members has more experience or is better at certain things, make sure to let the person do his or her thing," she says. "Avoid letting employees know that you disagree on something."
If necessary, have a neutral third party weigh in, suggests Childs.
"However, decide in advance whose vote outweighs the other," she says. "In our situation, Katy is in the target audience of our primary customer, so we decided she's the ultimate decision-maker."
4. Set clear expectations regarding communication.
"We live in different towns, so we've found it helpful to set expectations for communication and decision-making," says Childs.
"We instant message during the day and hold weekly virtual 'staff meetings' to review agenda items and plan for the coming week," she says. "We also have semi-annual planning retreats where we spend uninterrupted time together working on strategy and our company roadmap."
5. Divide and conquer.
According to Mallory, CEO and co-founder of SlumberPod, she and her mother divide up responsibilities as much as possible in their family business.
"We play to each other's strengths," she says. "My mom is more analytical and technical, so dashboards, marketing technologies and website updates are a natural fit for her. I excel at networking with fellow entrepreneurs, copywriting and creating social media posts."
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