Dear Ira
I’m glad to have the chance to write you, to see if you have an opinion that could break the stalemate between my parents, my siblings and myself, in our 3rd generation precision machine shop.
The predicament is this: none of the 5 of us made a conscious choice to join this company. My grandfather became ill, and my father and his brother stepped in to keep things running. My father and uncle never got along, but tolerated each other for the good of all. When my grandfather died, my uncle split, and started a company, competing with my father. My father was a musician, and never wanted to run a factory, and hoped to leave when his father died, but now he was locked in a race to the bottom with his brother. My father triumphed, and learned nothing, as he eventually guilted me and my brothers to join him after college. We have been chained at the hip, each making identical salaries (no matter that we benefit the business very differently); and we are each convinced that we are the best of the 3, and the other 2 should go find happiness elsewhere. My father would like to retire, have the 3 of us buy him out, and brag to his friends about how the whole family business thing worked out marvelously. What to do?!
1 of 3 unhappy musketeers
Dear Unhappy Musketeer,
The real musketeers had an expression: “all for one, one for all.” If that’s not happening, you have a competitive disadvantage that will make you all even more unhappy. And life is too short to do something that is not your unique ability, and even if it is, to do it with people who you don’t align with well. I think this is a case of honesty is the best policy; but best if you all hire a facilitator that can be neutral, can keep your conversation as sane as possible, and detoxify as much as possible. You are all feeling the pain, and need to put your heads together to identify all the options, and score and measure them all, to find what it best for each and all of you. Maybe you can continue in business together, and figure out which of you will lead, or if you can have some kind of co-leadership. Maybe it’s a case where you could split the company into divisions, and each heads one, and you do business together, as appropriate; and with others, as appropriate. Maybe you figure out what else you could each do, and who will buy the others out. Imagine if your uncle bought out your father, and he could be the musician he wanted to be. And maybe you’d all get along better as family, if not oppressed by your business conflicts. The first task is to approach your siblings and say “can we all acknowledge that we have a problem that needs to be solved? Can we identify a facilitator who we all trust? Can we agree that we will behave ourselves in conversations about our options, being vulnerable enough, honest enough, real enough, and open enough?” Good luck! I’d be glad to speak with you more.

About the Author

The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is a resource for families in business, and one giant aspect of that is the next generation, working its way into leadership; often discovering how to operate as a sibling or cousin team; assuming the risks in a more competitive market than ever before; needing to innovate and evolve to avoid failure; and realize how to achieve that magic state of work/life balance, combined with doing what you love, as well as using your unique talents, different than what your family has known before. This page will be a place for you to connect, explore, and express yourself in the local and global communities of the Nxt Gen of family business.

Ira Bryck is president of the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley (in Western Mass). The center provides a learning community for family and closely held companies, which include dinner forums, confidential roundtables, and varied workshops; and produces the website fambizpv.com and advice column, Dear Ira: Fresh Air and Cold Water for the Perplexed Business Family. Ira confers with entrepreneurial families on an array of usual and unusual challenges. He is the author of three plays about life in family business, including A Tough Nut to Crack, based on his 17 years in his family's 4th generation childrenswear business on Long Island, where he served simultaneously in every role from president to tailor. The plays have been performed internationally over 100 times. Ira hosts The Western Mass Business Show on WHMP in Northampton Mass, where he interviews business owners and expert advisors about what inspires them, keeps them awake, helps them succeed, and makes them unique.


For more info, contact Ira Bryck at 413 835 0810 or ira@fambizpv.com

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