Family Business Should Strengthen Family Ties

Tom Mazza, Contributing Editor
Posted on June 1, 1998

I have thought about George Colarullo Jr. a lot in the past few months. He was the owner of Corporate Limousine Service in the Boston area. He recently passed away at the relatively young age of 54. George was a bright, funny man who was taken much too soon. His son, George III, worked with his father for many years and took over the company after his father’s death.

George III expressed to me how the limousine business brought him much closer to his father through the years. “If I made a mistake at work, my Dad and I always put it aside,” says George III. “We were best friends. The business brought us much closer.”

I have been researching family business issues for the past few months. The results of my research will be published in future issues. I have spoken to psychologists, psychiatrists, white collar, and blue collar family business owners. A common problem I’ve heard repeatedly is that a family business can strain family life. It can damage marriages, produce resentment among siblings, and can dominate every aspect of family life. It can become an anchor that will weigh down everything good and rejuvenating about family life.

My tip this month is to make “family” the focus of your family business. If your husband or wife is your partner, be sure to continuously remind them that your business partnership is always secondary to your life partnership.

Larry Willwerth was recently named LCT Operator of the Year (large category). His company, A&A Limousine/Carey Boston, has been family owned since the 1920s. I spent a day with Larry and his sister Joan this winter after a fierce Boston snowstorm. The office was chaotic. The weather had created scheduling nightmares. However, the Willwerth family and staff remained calm. What I remember most about that day is the respect Joan and Larry showed for each other and the genuine pride they had in each other’s accomplishments.

Family should always be the number one priority in your business. When I owned my limousine company, I was so proud to be the “boss.” I loved signing the paychecks on the front rather than on the back. You become an entrepreneur because you want to control your own destiny. You are so proud to hold tide to your vehicles, but in a way, they can hold tide to you.

The dirty secret is that you are the “boss” in name only. The paying customer dictates everything in this business. They decide what vehicles you purchase. They determine where your vehicles go and they most certainly determine your prices. Sure, you won’t get called in on a Friday afternoon to get a pink slip. However, you can still get “fired” by your clients.

Take the time to tell each and every family member that the most important asset in your business is your family. Additionally, family members who are outside the business unconditionally supporting you are just as important as the family members working in the business.

The client who found a cigarette butt in the car vacuumed by your brother is really no big thing in the grand scheme of things. Just ask George Colarullo III.

Related Topics: family businesses

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