What it’s like working with my sister

I just love when I get comments or suggestions on my blog. Earlier this week, an industry colleague wrote that she wondered if I would be willing to share insights on the family business dynamic, working with my sister Jackie, etc.

Jackie and I look adorable in the picture above, but we weren’t really very close as we grew up. We were three years apart in school, which meant that we were never on the “same playground.”

It wasn’t until Jackie went off to college and I joined my mom in business that we got close. Of course, that was because we didn’t step into each others’ worlds. I was working in the produce business and Jackie was finishing college and starting her adventure of traveling around the world and skiing 100 days in a single season (that took her three years).

Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Jackie decided to join me and mom in the family business. That was 1983. Both mom and I were surprised, as Jackie had vowed NEVER to live in Los Angeles!

To be truthful (and hindsight is always 20/20), I think Jackie really shook my world when she joined Frieda’s. I had enjoyed being an “only child” as the daughter of entrepreneur Frieda Caplan for 6 years. Then, all of a sudden, I had to make room for a new playmate in my sandbox.

It was an adjustment. I clearly remember mom taking us to lunch at Vickman’s Restaurant near the Los Angeles produce market three months after Jackie started. She coached us both on how to treat each other – not as big sister-little sister, but as work colleagues.

In 1990, we were given the opportunity to buy the company from our parents. So, for 20 years now, Jackie and I have worked side by side as partners.

Even in the early years, we worked pretty well together. I was involved in the big picture of running the company and Jackie was involved in sales (and was extremely successful). Her clients LOVED her. But something didn’t quite click.

Finally, about 6 years ago, we were working with Julie Krivanek (a business consultant to the produce industry) and she had “a talk” with us. She sat us down and we both shed a few tears, but her talk worked. It’s as if a giant barrier went down and the doors and windows flew open.

I will say that now, we are truly FULL BUSINESS partners and best friends. We work on company strategy together. We meet weekly to update each other on what’s going on in our respective parts of the business. (Actually, we talk several times a day, informally, but we are now committed to a weekly one-on-one meeting). Jackie and I both belong to our own key executive groups (www.vistage.com) and share the same chair/mentor (Steve Elson rocks!).

Here are some insights on family business:
• Siblings can get along in business, even if they didn’t get along growing up.

• It’s important for siblings to experience the world on their own and work outside the family business before they join the company.

• Evaluate the capabilities of family members as you would any other employee. Don’t be influenced by birth order or gender.

• Don’t be afraid to get outside help when you are dealing with the family business dynamics. There are family business councils associated with many universities, all over the country.

• Keep personal family dynamics separate from business dynamics.

In closing, I want to say that sometimes as sisters in business, our roles change. It’s not unusual in our weekly meeting for Jackie to coach me on how to handle a situation. The first time it happened we chuckled!

I like having her in my sandbox.


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21 thoughts on “What it’s like working with my sister

  1. Karen and Jackie…….I just love these stories!! And you know I love Frieda!!
    Looking forward to seeing all of you, soon.

  2. Well said!

    Family and/or friends mixed with business almost always adds a layer of complication; but if handled with poise, patience and willingness to grow and change as you two have, it can be that much more rewarding!


    Jennifer H.

  3. I loved your comments on working together. I recently saw the mutual respect that has developed and I was so happy to see that dynamic. You are always better together as partners than fighting separate corners. Good luck to you both in keeping the relationship alive and well.

  4. I really enjoyed the subject today. Thank you for sharing with us your experience as a partner in a family business, it is very thoughtful and helpful.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I have a property in common with my two younger brothers, and luckily, we all get along. Certainly not as complicated as running a family business as yours. I bowed out a long time ago working for my father in the furniture business. Sales wasn’t my thing.

  6. How blessed you are to be able to work alongside your sister. Did you know that the pictures that are on the wall behind you and Jackie are now hanging in my moms house. She admired them for years and so far back I’m not even sure when – your folks gave them to mine!.. What a surprise to see them!

  7. Loved this story, and thanks for sharing the honest personal insight. So many of us in family businesses can feel isolated from the fact that everyone struggles with the personal versus business issues.

  8. This was such an inspiring post Karen. I like your insights about running a family business and how you and your sister have gone through with it. Actually we have also the same story. We also have a family business and when mom and dad were too old to handle them, my sister Mia and I came to the rescue. At first we were having problems especially with our computer system. But a friend of ours suggested to call professionals in Ottawa computer support group and fixed all the problems of our PC’s in our office. Here in Ottawa, computer support services are actually great and now our business runs smoothly because our computers are now okay.

  9. It’s not that easy venturing into business and make it grow and last. There are some entrepreneurs who successfully made it, but there still those who are not. And I’m happy that you guys all made it. When I started my own business a couple of months ago, I called up some computer networking support and online IT support group to help me in making our business more advanced. Gladly, in just a span of five months, our sales have increased. And that’s because of our hard works, effort and being technologically updated.

  10. I had the opportunity to bring my sister, the oldest of six children, into my business after many years of being the younger and middle sister in our family dynamic. We figured out quickly how to play well in our sandbox, because we learned to put the business first and our self-concepts second. When you both have egos that can be put on the shelf, and can learn to put the business first, you can make it work the your advantage. There’s no one I trust more than my business partner and my sister. Trust is No. 1 in business. Congrats to you both on making it work!

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