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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