All in the Family

How to keep a family-owned business thriving from one generation to the next

From how the monies are managed to dealing with issues of hiring, firing, and compensation, the consensus is to keep business concerns separate from family issues. Guidelines for responsibilities, expectations, and legal requirements should be in writing, because blurring or disregarding the boundaries can hinder professional and personal relationships and jeopardize the business. “You have to keep the distinction between your family and your business,” Raphel asserts. “Your family is always your family, but the business, you should treat as such.”

Nepotism and commingling finances, among other indiscretions, are what family-owned small businesses need to ward against. Just as detrimental is allowing the business to stagnate. The best defense is the injection of someone who doesn’t just have new ideas but also has the willingness and power to implement them. This can be someone from within the family or from outside who’s brought in.

For Jones & Sons, the ideas and implementation may have come from Nina but embracing them has been a companywide effort. Michael credits Nina with bringing technology to the company in 2000. For example, gone is the showroom full of caskets, replaced with a virtual one. Today, clients choose from the company’s entire warehouse selection on a 37-inch monitor, which saves time and makes the process more comfortable. The entire staff had to adjust and learn how to use the technology, including Michael, but he says they all took it in stride. “The industry itself is changing,” he acknowledges. So far, Jones & Sons is keeping up.

Over the years, Nina, who’s worked in the company for 13 years, also orchestrated plans to upgrade the staff from suits to tuxedos during funeral services, to update the logo, and to increase Jones & Son’s branding efforts. “We have increased revenues because of it,” she notes.

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