For 40 years, Dennis has helped families manage the personal and organizational issues that lead to successful and fulfilling transfer of businesses, wealth, values, commitments and legacies between generations. He is professor of Organizational Systems and Psychology at Saybrook University in San Francisco. Dennis received his BA in Philosophy, MA in Management and Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University.
As both an organizational consultant and clinical psychologist, he is one of the architects of the emerging field of family enterprise consulting. As a founding member of the Family Firm Institute, he has presented at many of their annual conferences, served on their board, written frequently for their journal Family Business Review, and was awarded the Richard Beckhard Award for contributions to practice.
In this interview, Dennis Jaffe share his experience in helping next generation members of family business to create a future for themselves and the keys to succeed at succession.
Jamie Calvetti, President of James Calvetti Meats in Chicago
After 32 years working in the family business and running it before his father’s passing, Jamie Calvetti found himself as an equal co-owner with two more siblings that were not involved in managing the business. The situation got to a point that he had to buy his own business to gain control. In this interview, Jamie Calvetti, President of James Calvetti Meats, one of the USA’s leading purveyor’s of prime quality meat products, shares how to go about buying your family business and what he learned from his father’s mistakes.
What were the main challenges that you faced working in your family business?
In family business, there is a lot of jockeying back and forth. My father was aggressive, charismatic and well known around the country. He slowly allowed me to manage some pieces of the business.
I had been gainfully working and managing in the business since I started. I learned everything that I could about the business. I bought computer into the business in 1982 for logistic and accounting functions. Email did not exist in 1982. I managed to processing, logistics, personnel, accounts receivable and payables and some purchases. I had my own sales, but of course there was many times that competition was a problem. I did everything an entrepreneur does in a business. In 1986 I started up business in Japan (the country was too small for my father and myself to compete within). Shortly after that I started up sales in Europe. Between the time 1986 and 1991, I traveled, on business, to Japan and or Europe about 15 times.
In 1991 I was able to manage the large multinational business customers we had because of the change in technology. That was the advent of email. Major customers starting using email to communicate, which I was very proficient. My father’s style of communication did not work for the new younger buyers/managers.
My father felt that I was taking him away from the business. There was a competition between my father and I and competition between the siblings.
Was there any succession planning?
There was no formal succession planning. My father’s accountants came to him and said he needed to move some of his shares to his children for tax purposes. He wanted to split it equally. The accountants, unbeknownst to him and me, gave me a tenth of 1% more than my other siblings.
Were you the only sibling working in the company?
One sibling was. He was in charge of the newspaper for the first 15 years and then in charge of Internet marketing the last 15 years.
Do you think that equal is not always fair?
It wasn’t. The accountants set it up. When my father passed away there was jockeying for position. At that point, my father was 89 years old, and I was running the business.
My dad was very good at running a business and did not melt the company. Because of that, the company was and is very well financed. We left quite a bit of cash in the business.
I had to buy both my siblings out over three years and both were major negotiations. There were bad feelings involved and it took a very aggressive attorney to take care of things on my side.
In the meantime, we had to run a business. I could see down the line that with all these buyouts I was going to need to start growing the company again. We were in the airline and food service business and we stopped growing after 9-11 and didn’t diversify. I tried to diversify a couple of times and it failed. Ultimately, I went back to my core business. I reduced my salary and reduced expenses where it was necessary to generate the cash for the buyouts.
What were the keys to raise capital to buy your siblings out?
You have to make a profit, have good cash flow, and show and prove that to the bank. Handle your personal finances properly and correctly. Be conservative with the money that you do have. I had my broker contact the bank and give a referral. I come from a place where my dad wanted to pay everything in cash. We paid cash for a building, and in about 17 years the value of the building doubled and there are no loans against it.
You just have to play it right and you can’t be the guy that has a $1 million dollar house with an $800,000 mortgage. You will not get the financing even though that is your personal stuff they are going to look at it. They are going to see that you are too much of a risk taker or you don’t know how to run your money.
I also look at my cash position every day. I know what my accounts receivable, accounts payable, loan, and my cash positions are. I also know what my estimated payouts are for the following week. In the meat business, you have to pay your bills in seven days because we buy a perishable product. You should also follow the markets. When we made a lot of money, instead of taking it out, I loaned it back to the company. It was advantageous to me because I could pay myself interest more than market rates.
It also showed the way that you ran the company.
Right. I had stable employees. You bring the banks in show them the business-that is not normal. You show everything to them and show them you can make money in various economic conditions.
When your father passed away there was no real succession plan. What would you do differently for your children?
I don’t have any children but I do have a stepdaughter. I would never burden her with this. What I would do different than my father is I would determine who was most interested in the business and most capable. I would move those assets upon or before my passing to that person. Then, I would compensate the others.
How is your relationship with your siblings now?
We have a strained relationship.
Do you think that all this pain could have been avoided with proper planning?
Maybe. Entrepreneurs are a special type of group – they are very competitive at least my father was. He was competitive with his children. I can remember a couple times, that he wouldn’t be so happy that I would bring in a huge order. It was a strange situation.
What advice would you give next generation members that are considering buying their Family Business?
- You first have to know how to run the business profitably and conservatively. You should not take a $500,000 salary, take cash out the business, and expect the bank to finance the business.
- Have to have your own money in the business too.
- Have a great reputation in your industry, better reputation than everybody else.
- Pay your bills on time or early. That gives you power to do the things you want to do or at least it helps you.
- Then you have to run your personal life properly. Don’t have a $1 million house with $800,000 loan.
- You have to be and work at the job. You can’t be on vacation all the time.
- You have to have stable employees, be a good manager, and a good communicator.
What about you? Have you ever been in a similar situation? What other resources could have been used to take control of the company? Are banks the most likely founding source for family business buyouts? Please, share your experience, we can all learn from it!
Written by Carmen Lence, Coach and Consultant at NextGen Consulting and Coaching LLC. www.nextgenfamilybusiness.com
After her father suffered a stroke, Kathleen Thurmond had to jump into managing her family business, without previous experience in the business. In this interview, Kathleen share tips on how to survive and thrive – successfully selling the family business 12 years later, despite having no succession planning, experience, or guidance with running the business.
If you are in a sink-or-swim situation with your family business, relax it can be done… here is how.
How did you become involved in your family business?
My father had a stroke and it prevented him from being able to do anything with the business. We had an outside person running it day to day. My father was overseeing it and then he had a stroke that created a much bigger problem. At this point, my mother asked me to step in along with one of my brothers.
How was it for you to jump into the family business without warning and running it without guidance from your father?
It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I had just come from being a director of an AIDS hospice program and I had 35 employees. But it was very different from stepping into a uniform supply industrial organization. There were two unions and 50 employees. I had to deal with people who had been there a long time and knew a whole lot more than I did about the business. The fortunate part is when you don’t know very much, you are not as afraid as you might be if you really knew more.
What was your background before joining the company?
I had about 18 years in the fields of non-profit and social work. I have a Master Degree in Social Work, which I got after three years in journalism and I was writing and in to photography prior to that.
With my social work career, I often ended up in management. I was an assistant director in a hospital for 8 years and then went on to run an AIDS program. I was also always politically active in whatever I did because I am an activist at heart. I was on the AIDS commission for LA (Los Angeles) and president of a Long Beach AIDS consortium.
When you joined the family business with your brother, what was your position?
For six months, we shared a Vice President role. Each of us having the same title but he was living in San Francisco at the time. The business was in Long Beach and he never intended to stay. He worked in the business when he was younger in the production area and routing – delivering clothes. He knew the business from that perspective but he was a masseuse and had no desire to either leave San Francisco or to be a part of the business.
When did you start running the business by yourself?
In six months, I was in charge.
What would be your advice for other next gen that do not have a succession plan and all the sudden find themselves in the same situation-?
My first piece of advice would be to do the planning so that the family knows what to do in the event of death or illness of the founder. If you don’t do that then, learn everything you can about the business. Take every industry specific and leadership classes. Immerse yourself in education.
I joined a group of 12 men who were owners of companies like mine. We met every other month and talked about the business. We met at each other’s business so that we could and critique each other. We would give advice and talk about the latest innovations in the industry. That was a big help.
I always attended the trade shows, national conferences, and equipment shows. You learn so much when you talk to other people and see the equipment that someone talks to you about over the phone. In industrial laundry, there are washers, dryers, sort systems, and boilers so it was just like a whole other world for me.
Did you create a team of people to help you?
There were managers when I came in. The difficulty was they were hired primarily by my father. He was more of an authoritative figure, which is usually the case with founders. My management style was more collaborate and inclusive. I think it was important to be that way because in order for them to accept me as a leader, I had to also accept them, their expertise, and knowledge about the industry. I think that made for a much easier transition then if I were to go in and pretend I knew everything and I really didn’t.
Over time some people, I let go of or they let go of me because the style was different. It didn’t sit well with some people who had been there for years. There was also new energy, new people that was coming in who were from the industry and others who were experienced managers from other industries.
After 12 years of running the company, the decision was made to sell it. How did it feel to sell the family business? Why was the decision made to sell it?
When I was about two-thirds of the way through that 12-year process, I got my MBA while running the company. One of things that a professor said to me was what is your exit strategy. Although I didn’t want to hear that at the time, it really planted the seed that I needed to be thinking about it.
I was also very active in my industry and the only woman on my national trade board. I met the big guys Aramark, G & K, Cintas and UniFirst. They began to know me and also began a 5-year project with EPA on environmental management and wastewater treatment. We developed best management practices for the industry. All those things exposed my relatively small company to the larger guys.
They began to call me and at first I didn’t want to talk to them at all. It scared me. I thought I am never going to sell and will be with this company forever. Then, I remembered what my professor said and I began to talk with them. It was then a gradual process and it began to make sense. I sat down one day and really contemplate – did I want to stay here forever? The answer was no.
Selling is all about timing. Of course I am not clairvoyant. I didn’t know the economy was going to crash in a few years but the reality was I sold at the perfect time. It was when the bigger guys were paying a lot for companies my size. More than they paid a couple of years later. Thank goodness I did that because my mother, who is still alive at 93, is comfortable.
Emotionally, what is easy for you to sell it?
I knew deep down that it was the right thing. At the same time, I was letting go of a profession that I thought I would be in for the rest of my life. I was letting go of my dad’s dream. He died shortly after I began to run the company. My mom was helpful and said that if you feel like it is the right time to sell, then let’s do it. It was nice to have her support.
You are the President of the National Association of Women Business Owners-San Francisco. What is the most rewarding aspect of this position?
I wrote an introductory message for our monthly newsletter and a woman called me and said that what you wrote in the newsletter made me feel like you were speaking directly to me. That is what I love. I love mentoring women. I feel like I am here in the world and we as women are to lift each other up. Support each other in our businesses. Champion each other in what we hope to do and really to encourage each other to prosper in the world of business. It is not easy but it is much better for women now. With only 15% of women on corporate boards and 4% of women are Fortune 500 CEO’s, we still have a lot of work to do. It is inspiring to me when I see other women collaborating and working together to boost each other.
Kathleen is a natural leader with a strong “make it happened“ attitude. That is her greatest asset in dealing with having to take charge of the business with no experience or guidance. What about you? Have you ever dealt with a situation like that? How did you manage it?