Right professional and practical tone needed when employing relatives


January 06, 1992|By Alyssa Gabbay | Alyssa Gabbay,Special to The Sun

Anyone who's tracked the fate of New York retailer Joseph Brooks knows the kind of misfortune mixing family and business can bring. After trying to push his son up the ranks of AnnTaylor Stores Corp. too quickly, Mr. Brooks, chief executive officer of the women's clothing chain, watched his son's job -- and his own -- vanish.

The crucial event came last October, when 38-year-old Thomas Brooks was caught trying to sneak several watches into the country without paying duties on them. He resigned his position as president and chief operating officer of AnnTaylor Stores. Then, company directors decided to hire someone to fill those positions, as well as that of the elder Mr. Brooks, forcing Joseph, 65, into retirement.

Combining your work and your progeny doesn't always produce such explosive results. But those who link jobs and family risk harming their businesses in other ways.

"When you've already got complicated business matters, and you introduce into that all of these family issues, you're compounding the problems that can occur," said David Bork, a family business consultant in Aspen, Colo., and author of "Family Business, Risky Business" (American Management Association, New York, N.Y., 1987).

Yet by adopting professional, practical attitudes toward their children, business owners can avoid trouble.

Before hiring your child for a job, or promoting him to a new position, make sure he's qualified for it, Mr. Bork advises. It's easy for proud parents to assume that their children can do no wrong. But if they lack merit, putting them in positions where they can't excel will cause problems for them -- and for you.

"You have to develop an attitude of 'No Parking' -- that you won't park family members in your business just because you own it," said Mr. Bork. "That's a problem waiting to happen. Because if they screw up, they're going to suffer from it, and you're going to have a mess to clean up."

Mr. Bork recommends requiring your child to undergo the regular interview and application process, a move that should reduce resentment from other employees. "If employees see that there's some way of screening, so they have responsible people in the jobs, they'll feel better" about your action.

Another useful move: insisting that your child gain other work experience before entering your business.

At Advanced Packaging Inc., a Baltimore-based maker of reusable shipping containers, president Simon Kalderon has established a clear rule: No relative will be hired until he or she has been employed elsewhere first.

"If you bring a kid into your business right out of college, they might be cocky or have delusions of grandeur. [Making a relative work somewhere else first] makes them have a proper attitude toward others, and a respect for others," said Mr. Kalderon, who employs four family members. His sister is controller, his daughter is vice president of corporate communications, and his nephew and his brother-in-law are salesmen.

Working outside the family business can also boost your child's self-esteem, Mr. Bork says. "That experience is a way to find out if you're worth a damn. If you go immediately to work for your father, how do you know if you're any good?"

Once your child is on the job, be careful not to show preferential treatment.

When Gordon Silesky, president of North Charles Press, a Charles Village commercial printing and copying company, hired his then-24-year-old daughter to handle advertising and public relations last year, he assumed Susan would follow the same rules as every other employee, including those concerning vacation and sick days.

"If I thought she was taking advantage, I would reprimand her and would then fire her," said Mr. Silesky. "She knows that she's an employee, and that she's here to help the company."

He also informed employees before his daughter came on board that she "would have to make her own way. I was not going to hold her by the hand and walk her through."

He hopes his attitude has nipped any real resentment in the bud. There is still some grumbling among employees about Ms. Silesky's appointment, but most of it is inconsequential, he said.

Problems other than employee displeasure can also crop up.

For Ramon Getzov of GEBCO Insurance Associates Inc., hiring his daughter five years ago meant bringing on a worker who, unlike others in his 30-employee company, wasn't afraid to question his authority.

"Sometimes an employee wouldn't come out and tell you what they thought, but a family member might," said Mr. Getzov. "I really had to accommodate myself to having a daughter around who had opinions of her own. She's bright and strong-willed and had her own ideas, so it was interesting."

Occasionally, Lisa Radov, who was hired to head a newly formed advertising agency within the Baltimore-based company, implemented her ideas without consulting her father -- something Mr. Getzov wasn't accustomed to. "Normally people would come to me before they'd put their ideas into effect."

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