Categorized | Working & Family

The Pros And Cons of Working With Relatives

Posted on 06 January 2011

“Honey, let’s start our own business

Sounds charming, even romantic, right? But love, passion, and desire aren’t the only ingredients for success in business. Despite what you may have heard, it isn’t as easy as pie.

Just ask Susan Axelrod, president of Love and Quiches Desserts, a New York-based manufacturer that distributes bakery products worldwide to restaurants, hotels, caterers, airlines, and coffee houses. Since founding her hobby-turned-business in 1973, Axelrod’s husband, son, and daughter have each assumed prominent roles in the company, which today employs a staff of 200. Additional management was necessary as the business evolved: her husband Irwin, who serves as chief financial officer, and son Andrew, who is putting his graduate law degree to work as chief executive officer.

We divide the areas of responsibility, we don’t talk business outside of the office, and we respect each other’s decisions.

Rewarding Roles

Axelrod now defers on some business matters to her son–and enjoys the rewards of this role reversal. “I know whose hands the business is in,” she says, “and it’s fine with me that I’m not numero uno.”

Though she wasn’t apprehensive about her son joining the business, Axelrod offers some caution. “It’s just as hard to work with your children as it is your husband. It takes discipline and you must keep it impersonal” For one thing, Andrew refers to his mother by her first name during the course of business, rather than as “mom.”

A close family, the Axelrods have always championed each other’s skills and abilities. So, when daughter Joan Axelrod Wapner came aboard as director of public relations and business development, the family was thrilled to welcome a new team asset. “With a sales and marketing background and her engaging personality, Joan has gotten us plastered across so many newspapers that the phone rings off the hook,” her proud mother boasts.

Avoiding Shop Talk

While her family has struggled with the unique challenges of siblings and spouses who work together, “Our relationships have not been affected,” said Axelrod. “We divide the areas of responsibility, we don’t talk business outside of the office, and we respect each other’s decisions.”

With a general rise in entrepreneurship, small, family-run businesses constitute the majority of all businesses nationwide, according to Karin Porinchak. She is the assistant director of seminars and contract programs for the Center for Family Business at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus. The Center hosts retreats, workshops, and seminars that focus on families and their ability to work as teams.

As their parents ready to retire, today’s younger generations are transferring skills from related fields and entering niche areas of their family-owned firms, according to Porinchak. “Developing an Internet presence or installing an electronic ordering system are prime examples. It’s good, because these family members can do their own thing, while enabling the business to compete better globally,” she said.

Family in the Spotlight

When Lucille Gould and David Weinstein met, each had distinct career histories. Gould had followed in the footsteps of her father, a Vaudeville entertainer, performing in theater and comedy since the age of 12. David was mainly a writer, making ends meet at coffee shop jobs around Greenwich Village. After they wed, they embraced a turning point in their lives, deciding to return to what they loved doing–but this time, together.

“We built a comedy, with singing and sketches, based on a character, much like Lucille’s persona,” said David. “Initially, the promotional costs of breaking into the theater community were high,” he said. “Every place we worked at closed.” The twosome penetrated the motor coach industry and business continues to double annually. Now in its seventh year, “Cabaret Lulu” has grown to a company of fourteen and attracts seniors, students, and tourists.

Marketing their act takes a toll on their relationship from time to time, but the couple has learned how to handle it. “Emotionally I may get frustrated,” Lucille admits, “but I have to remember that there is a personal relationship underneath that comes first.”

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