Siblings

It took courage and spunk for two adventurous young men to launch an advertising agency in Detroit in 1929, when the country was teetering on the brink of the Great Depression.

Lawrence Michelson and Leonard Simons were fresh out of high school, with no clients and no experience. Advertising as we have come to know it was in its infancy.

Michelson and Simons' optimism paid off. The business they launched, now based in Troy, Mich., and called Simons-Michelson-Zieve Inc. (SMZ), is still going strong, three generations after its founding.

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When six brothers and sisters are involved, managing a family business can be complicated. Not so for Smyth Automotive—at least not according to Steve Smyth, 48, who manages store operations at the Cincinnati-based company. Although he declines to reveal sales figures, Steve says the company's revenue increased 10.5% during the first quarter of 2015.

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Tips for sibling business partners

Siblings and the Family Business
By Stephanie Brun de Pontet, Craig E. Aronoff, Drew S. Mendoza and John L. Ward
Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 • 105 pp. • $23

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At the 1893 World’s Fair, a Ferris wheel pierced the sky. Tosty Rosty, a small mechanical clown, peered from a steam-powered popcorn machine.

Charles Cretors invented that machine, which debuted alongside the lofty Ferris wheel. C. Cretors & Company, the concession equipment manufacturing business he founded in 1885, is still owned by his family and based in Chicago.

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The Flottman Company, a 91-year-old commercial printing firm near Cincinnati, found a unique way to balance the ambitions and desires of three siblings with the leadership needs of a company in an embattled industry. The firm did it with a Solomon-esque management succession plan that calls for rotating the president’s job among the three third-generation owners of the company. The plan has worked well for 20 years, but the next scheduled transition may not take place.

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Forging a close relationship among siblings during childhood is hard enough, but as siblings become adults, disparities in wealth that may develop can challenge even the strongest relationships. In business-owning families, the potential ramifications are extensive. The dynamic doesn’t just play out in the personal lives of the immediate family; it also can impact the alignment of corporate vision, tolerance for risk and overall decision making, thus affecting all stakeholders.

Understanding sibling wealth disparity

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We are a fourth-generation company whose chairman, our father, died last November. It is now myself (the eldest), my sister, her son and my brother, ten years younger than I. Since our father’s death, my brother’s ego has gone through the roof. He also has a problem keeping employees. I am treated as his employee, and he demands an explanation from me for every move I make, even though I am the president of the holding company.Can you offer some advice?

Experts’ replies:

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Of all the challenges facing a family-owned business, one of the most difficult is how to compensate family members working in the business. It’s not just pay for performance; there’s much more involved.

Equal pay: the default option

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For anyone who loved The Sound of Music or The Partridge Family, Five Sisters Productions is a fantasy come to life. Five Burton sisters have banded together to create an artistic venture in the image of these American cultural icons—but all grown up.

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Way back in Spring 1997, I wrote an article in Family Business entitled “Sibling behavior decoded” (see the Articles Library at www.familybusinessmagazine.com). Nine years later, the topic still resonates with family business owners. Building strong sibling partnerships is one of the biggest challenges for business families.

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