Learning the Hard Way: Communication and Decision-Making in a Family Business

By Rich Bond

After an 11-year successful run, I left Seagram, a $2 billion company, to take over my family’s $2.5 million, 15-year-old, temporary help business. I had no idea what I was stepping into.

I thought, “This will be a breeze!” How wrong I was.

When I walked into the office, I was taken aback. We were squished into a 1,100 sq. ft. space, and it was clear that we were going to outgrow it soon. But then, something fortuitous happened.

The landlord approached me and said “Hey, the unit next door is going to be available soon. You interested?” My reaction was, “Sure!” I knew that this extra space was the key to expanding the business successfully. I could already see it in my head: more room for our team, more room for our clients, more room for growth!

I didn’t predict what would happen next… In my eyes I had just made the deal of the century, but my father and brother acted as if I had committed a mortal sin. My father, having been a controller for 25 years, hated spending money. Coming from a large entity, I felt the business, which was expanding rapidly, needed room to grow, and this was an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up.

After taking on the additional space, our sales skyrocketed, more than doubling to a whopping $5.5 million over the next two years. Even so, things continued to be tricky when it came to working with my dad and brother. They were second-guessing my every move and thought I was  a spendthrift. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that they didn’t trust my judgment.

Despite the difficulties, we were able to sell the business back to the franchisor for an advantageous amount. It was a great move for everyone. My dad was able to retire (that’s him, retired, in the photo); my brother got to focus on his tech startup full-time; and I got to start my own recruitment business.

In retrospect, I realize that my lack of communication and involvement with my dad and brother in the decision to take the extra space created a rift in our working relationship. I learned that it’s crucial to involve others when you’re working in a family business (or any business).

What have you learned from a painful experience?

 

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