Dipping into the talent pool
Ryder Steimle, California Pools & Spas, West Covina, Calif.
Ryder Steimle, 39, never worked directly with his father, Doug, at the family's company, California Pools & Spas in West Covina, Calif. Doug, now 63, took a leave from the CEO's post in 1999 to join a three-year church mission to Argentina.
“That gave me an opportunity to grow without being overshadowed by his personality,” says Ryder, who was a vice president at the time. In his father's absence, he worked closely with his uncle, David Morrill, the company president, who's also now in his 60s.
“I think we would have gone different ways, had my father not left,” Ryder speculates. “It would have been difficult for our two personalities to blend for a long enough period of time for us to make the transition.”
After Doug returned from his mission in 2003, Ryder was named CEO of the company, which now employs 60 people. “When he got back, he realized the company was a different place, and it was probably best for me for him not to come back,” Ryder says. “It would be difficult for me to learn the things I needed to know to take control.”
At times, however, Doug found it tempting to jump back into the pool business, especially while Ryder was trying to help his three brothers find their niche in the company. “Of course there was tension,” Ryder admits. “It was very difficult to have his older son making decisions on behalf of his other kids.”
For instance, brother Quinton, 37, learned he's not interested in management. He found he excels in sales, and today he works directly with homeowners. “But settling into that seat has taken time, to discover what makes him tick and for us to coach him through,” explains Ryder.
Vanz, 34, initially worked in sales. He worked hard and was conscientious but didn't really shine in that position, according to Ryder. When an opportunity opened a few years ago for an assistant manager at the company's warehouse, Master Supply, he was able to grow into a management position there and now oversees that division. “It has been a perfect fit for him, and he has excelled,” says Ryder. While Doug agreed that Vanz should be given that opportunity, Ryder notes that he and his father disagreed about how it would happen.
“I think my father wanted to ramrod him into there, and I wanted it to happen a little slower,” Ryder says. “I remember being uncomfortable with someone on the outside—my father&151;who wasn't involved in the day-to-day business, sort of making those kinds of decisions.” He says he told his father, “‘There are things you're not seeing that I'm seeing. There are other players this will impact. We need to be sensitive to all that.' And we got on the same page together.” It is working well now, Ryder says. (His youngest brother, Myles, 30, is the manager of sales and marketing.)
Ryder understands why many parents want their children to have equal positions in their family's business. “They love them equally,” he acknowledges. “But you cannot have equality when you're passing the business to the kids. You have to have leaders and followers—a clear chain of command that everyone understands, respects and is willing to live by. When you start breaking that chain of command, that's when things get screwed up.”
Exploring family issues
Sheila Sigel, Travel One Inc., Bloomington, Minn.
In 1998, Sheila Sigel had worked her way up to vice president of operations at Travel One, her father's Bloomington, Minn., travel agency. Then she learned that her father, Bob Neuman, now 70, had decided to buy out his non-family partner and bring in a new president: Sheila's brother Bill Neuman, now 38, who was then working as an insurance salesman for MassMutual.
This was a surprise to Sheila, who had spent 15 years at the agency. “I didn't know that the buyout was happening, or that they went to my brother about bringing him in as president,” she recalls. Sheila, now 44, admits she may not have taken the position if it had been offered, as her daughter was just an infant at the time. “But I guess I would like to have been talked to about it prior,” she says. “There were hard feelings about it, but I've overcome them.”
The family's business relationship has survived, she says, because of her solid relationship with her brother, and the great job he's doing growing the company, particularly strengthening the staff, which now numbers 55, and enhancing community involvement. Her other brother, Steve Neuman, 42, joined the company three years ago and is now vice president, sales and services.
Today their father is vice president and CFO. Ownership is divided equally among the three siblings. “There are always issues and personality conflicts, but we are all on the same page to grow the company,” says Sheila.
The siblings brought in an outside consultant two years ago to help iron out those issues and conflicts. To choose the consultant, first Bill and Bob interviewed three candidates. “Then I got to choose the one I felt most comfortable with,” says Sheila.
One issue they tackled involved the closeness between Bill and Steve. “That was interfering with our working relationship. And it was causing friction,” explains Sheila, who says she felt left out.
They also needed to understand each other's personality types: Bill and Sheila both have “type A” personalities, while Steve is more laid-back, Sheila says. She says she resented everyone's assumption that because Bill is the president, he's the busiest. “The schedule always ran around him,” Sheila says. “[The consultant] made everyone realize I'm as busy as Bill, and my role is just as important.”
The family is still working with the adviser, who is helping them build trust and improve communications, Sheila says. “[The consultant] opened everyone's eyes that we have an issue communicating,” she notes. “Because we're family, we don't want to hurt each other's feelings. She's teaching us to separate family and business, to take criticism and know it won't personally affect our family relationship.”
Have the sessions helped? “I think we've come a long way,” Sheila says. “We can now speak about things easier than we could before.”
The siblings now make decisions together, she points out. If an issue arises, “We all give our opinions and concerns. But if we don't decide 100%, Bill has the final word.” And then the family puts on a united front and supports that decision, she says.
Their father, Bob, still comes in every day to oversee finances. “He doesn't like his children disagreeing,” Sheila observes. “He's a good sounding board, so he can be a good middleman. But it's easier now that he's no longer the main decision-maker.”
Planning for family time
Marie Williamson, Affairs to Be Remembered, Broomall, Pa.
Each of the four sisters who own and run Affairs to be Remembered, a Broomall, Pa.-based event design company, is in a different stage of life.
Eileen Williamson-Getty, 48, the controller, has six children. (The older three work at the company: Thomas, 24, builds props; Francis, 25, is a florist; and Daniel, 21, is the lead production person.) Maureen Williamson-Collins, 37, art and floral designer, has three children, ages seven, five and three. Annabelle Williamson-Mirra, 35, a salesperson, has a two-year-old.
Sister Marie Williamson, 33, is single and has no children. Her sisters who are mothers “have a harder time juggling everything,” she observes. So she accepts being on call more, she says. She notes that she doesn't mind because “I love my job.”
The family has figured out how to make the arrangements fair, Marie says. “We try to work the schedules so if there's a Saturday install, even if it's not one of my clients, I'd head up the load-out the night before, since Annabelle and Maureen need to be at home at night. But then I'd have off the next day. So I'm not really working more hours.”
A fifth sister, Kathy Williamson-Moran 50, is the office manager. Brother Michael Williamson, 40, serves as warehouse manager. They both came on board a year and a half ago and are not yet owners. (Kathy's son, Patrick, 25, builds props for the company.)
Marie says the siblings take care not to pick fights. But she adds that they know they can take advantage of each other. For instance, Marie says, when tempers occasionally flare, “We don't have to apologize. Our form of an apology is getting iced tea for each other.”
Generally, she says, they are more sensitive to each other's moods than non-family colleagues would be, because they don't want an argument to create a family rift.
The siblings' mother, Annabelle Williamson, a retired seamstress and rental property owner, helps them maintain work/family balance and keep the peace. She takes care of her four youngest grandchildren in a day care room at the company facilities. After 3 p.m., Maureen picks up her second-grader and kindergartner from school and spends a little time with them at the company's day care room. The children do their homework there and can visit with their mom or aunts and uncle. Maureen and sister Annabelle can also have lunch with the younger children. “It breaks up the day for them,” notes Marie.
In the seven years the company has existed, the family has had to handle typical business family disagreements, Marie says. “For instance, I'm more eager to take risks, but we have checks and balances,” she explains. “Every major decision goes through all four partners.”
The company, which oversees about 100 events a year, is currently considering purchasing new trucks. Marie would like a 15- and 24-footer and a van, but Eileen, who tends to be more cautious, is not convinced.
“Sometimes [a decision] goes by majority,” says Marie. “I know Eileen is not just saying no for the sake of it, that it's because she has our as a company's interests at heart. Most of the time, we learn to trust unconditionally that we have each other's back, and you can't put a price tag on that.”
Letting their feelings out
Laurie Brock Lisk, Max Brock Co. Inc., Buffalo, N.Y.
In 1979 Laurie Brock Lisk took a break from her job in social work to join her father's Buffalo, N.Y., recycling yard, Max Brock Co. Inc. She thought she'd make a pile of money and then return to her career. But her late father, Jerome Brock, took advantage of her presence to take a vacation.
“He said, ‘You're in charge,” and that changed all my feelings about the place,” recalls Laurie, now 53, the fourth-generation owner. “I really paid attention at that point. By the time he came back I had all these ideas to change everything. He'd say, ‘slow down, slow down.' He knew I was there to stay.”
But it was not easy working together, Laurie recalls. For one thing, Jerome, who worked until a few months before he died in 1994 at age 85, wouldn't pay his children any more than the lowest-paid employee. That might have been OK when Laurie and her brother, Mike—who died in 2002 at age 50—worked during school vacations. But once she was on board full time, making $4.50 an hour did not cut it. “He asked me how much I wanted, and I said $20 an hour. He said, ‘Pack your things and go.' So I walked out the door. Then he screamed, ‘How about $10?' I said, ‘With perks.'”
The screaming was in character, Laurie says. “My family tends to scream and yell. But we don't fight,” she insists. The distinction? There are no fights “where we don't talk for days,” she explains. “We argue about business, scream it out and then it's over. We don't hold on to stuff.”
When Laurie disagreed with her dad, she'd wait for him to go on vacation. During one of his holidays, she put up a big sign over the front: “Max Brock Co.: Father and Daughter Business.” Then she got bolder, and installed a new platform for trucks to dump their scrap metal.
Another year, Laurie says, she purchased a $10,000 computer system. She recalls that upon his return, he always asked her, “‘What'd you do this time?' Then it would usually end up ‘his idea.' I didn't care whose idea it was; I'd get it done.”
The year she planned in advance to have a new building constructed, she told him, “I really went over the top this time—you'll really be pleased.” When she drove him to see the $50,000 structure, she recalls, he bellowed, “I told you we don't need another building.” She answered, “I thought you were wrong.”
One thing Laurie did not change while her father was on vacation was the staff. But as soon as he died, she let four old-timers go, including his 87-year-old secretary and three yard workers, also in their 80s.
The $3 million company now employs 15 people—plus Laurie's two nephews, ages 21 and 16, during school vacations. Her two older daughters have their own careers. “They're great kids, but the thought of coming to work in combat boots and jeans would not work for them,” Laurie says. “My third daughter, who's 17, has the heart to do it,” she notes, but she adds that she's had a hard time getting her youngest to work during school vacations.
A few months before Jerome died, he and his wife, Rose, would drive to the yard after his dialysis treatments. “He'd toot [the horn] at me, and I'd go out back with him,” Laurie recalls. “Then he'd bark, ‘You're doing this wrong, you're doing that wrong. As soon as I die, you're going to go broke.' I'd be a mess. Then my mother would call me later and say, ‘The whole way home your father bragged about the great job you're doing.'”
Managing fast growth
Amgad Saad, Garner TV & Appliance, West Garner, N.C.
“I've never had an idea that's been overruled,”; claims Amgad Saad in his Southern drawl. Called the “Egyptian redneck” by friends, the 40-year-old general manager of Garner TV & Appliance shop in West Garner, N.C., measures his new ideas in terms of how many meetings it takes to sell them to the five family members who work with him.
One idea—opening a second location—has been mulled over at about a dozen meetings over three years. But, Amgad is quick to add, it has not been ruled out by family members, including his father, Mones Saad, 68, the company president, and his aunt Magda Saad, 60, treasurer, who started the company in 1977 after immigrating to the U.S. several years earlier. They retain their titles and still act as advisers, although they retired last year. Another uncle, vice president Magdy Saad, 55, has been spending more time on community activities.
Amgad's sister Rita Hines, 37, works with Amgad on the appliance side of the business, while Magda's sons, Tamer Saad, 37, and Adam Saad, 32, run the electronics end. Magdy's wife, Samia, serves as accountant.
“We're willing to take a few more risks than our parents want us to take,” notes Amgad. “But we've always found a middle ground on all the ventures we've wanted to try.”
He says he understands the two reasons why his expansion plan has not yet taken hold. A previous expansion several years ago resulted in substantial losses. Amgad is optimistic that eventually, his plan will prevail because “the company is different today than it was before.” For the past six years Garner TV has enjoyed tremendous growth, from $4 million in annual revenues in 2000 to $12 million today. “Not that [the older generation] is completely resisting,” Amgad notes. “We talked about it last week because I happened to get a letter from a real estate agent about a property. But the fact is, we have a lot going on in the store currently.”
Which leads to the second reason for not yet opening a second store: a $300,000 renovation of the 20,000-square-foot retail store and warehouse.
“I'm not chomping at the bit; I'm busy enough right now,” Amgad says.
The family tries to manage its growth carefully, he says. “Half of our employees used to be family members. Now there are 31 employees. Our dynamics have been changing over the past five years.” Amgad says the company manual helps keep everyone's expectations in check. “As long as it's in writing, everyone understands, and you'll minimize dissent.”
Jayne A. Pearl, a freelance writer, editor and speaker (www.jaynepearl.com), is the author of Kids and Money: Giving Them the Savvy to Succeed Financially and a workbook based on her seminar, How to Gimme-Proof Your Kids.