Choosing to stay
Audicles Hearing Services Inc.
San Antonio, Texas
Carrol Green recalls that her parents seldom talked about business at the dinner table. That's because they rarely came home in time for dinner. Her father, Arthur Small, ran the family's hearing-aid company and worked nights and most weekends. Her mother, Gretta, who did secretarial and sales work for the company, also often worked late. Carrol, the oldest of three girls, cooked meals and helped her younger sisters with homework instead of hanging out with friends.
Despite their busy schedules, Carrol says, her family was close-knit. “In those days, if you weren't in your office, you weren't making money,” she explains. After her father retired in 1980, Carrol, now 58, took the reins of the company, Audicles Hearing Services Inc.
Carrol, who had spent some time teaching, originally had no intention of joining the business. In fact, she remembers being irked by the jokes that followed when she told friends her father sold hearing aids. Her classmates would invariably respond, “Huh? I can't hear you.” So she starting saying simply that her father owned his own business.
But when her then-husband came on board shortly after they were married in 1971, she joined Audicles part-time. Two years into the job, he decided to quit and become a teacher. “My father was devastated,” Carrol recalls. “I had wanted to go back to teaching, too. But my father really wanted the business in the family, so I told him I'd stay in the business.”
After her father died in 1984, Carrol figured if she wanted out, the time had arrived. She took two weeks off to decide whether or not to continue. She recalls ultimately reasoning that “I've put my blood, sweat and tears into this business; no way was I going to walk out on it.
“I realized I really did like the business,” Carrol reflects. “From then on, I've not thought about leaving. Now that I've made my choice, I'm happy.”
But she regrets that her father opted not to use the family name, Small, for the company. Clients are drawn to tiny, barely visible hearing aids, she explains, because “there's still a stigma against being hearing-impaired.” Arthur Small “thought it would be pompous to use his last name for the business,” Carrol says. “But if he had simply called it Small Hearing Aids I could be retired by now! We missed the advertising opportunity of a lifetime.”
Vincent ‘Randy' Chin Jr.
Though his business is now based in Jamaica, N.Y., Chinese-descended Vincent “Randy” Chin, Jr., 42, grew up on Jamaica the island, surrounded by reggae music.
Randy recalls that as a young boy, he cared more about his toys than his father's fledgling music studio. One day, he was waiting for his dad to finish a conversation so he could ask him for a new toy racecar. As the discussion dragged on, Randy remembers wondering, “Who's this guy with dreadlocks my dad is talking to?” It was reggae legend Bob Marley.
Randy initially became an engineer for McDonnell Douglas. He joined the family recording and distribution company in 1996 after a round of McDonnell Douglas layoffs. Today, Randy is the VP of VP Records, which has been spinning out platinum records, even as Internet downloading has wreaked havoc on most of the music industry.
VP Records is now the largest Caribbean music label. “We've had hits,” Randy modestly acknowledges. He notes that one of his platinum-selling artists, Sean Paul, “has been very successful, and I think the genre has gotten a lot of exposure. Plus, we've expanded internationally.” The company has offices in both Jamaicas as well as London, Japan, Canada and Florida.
VP Records releases an average of 60 reggae and other Caribbean albums per year. Billboard Magazine has named it “Best Independent Record Label” for the past two years and “Best Reggae Imprint Label.”
All this success has opened new doors for VP Records with some of the big chain stores. That's not sitting well with the entire family. Randy's mother, Patricia, who co-founded VP Records in 1979 with her husband, Vincent Sr. (who died in 2002), still rules the roost. Randy says she wants to ensure their expansion doesn't mean they will ignore the smaller independent stores that helped VP Records become the No. 1 Caribbean label.
Randy says expansion is a greater goal for him and his brother Chris, 44, the company president, and their sister Angela, 40, who runs the Florida office with her husband, Howard Chung. Nephews Joel, 23, the company's A&R director, and Andre, 21, who works in promotions, are children of Randy's oldest brother Clive, 50, who runs his own small production company.
Randy says his mother is “a bit more old-school. She was dealing more with independent stores, and as we've expanded the company, the business dynamic is very different. So there has been that conflict. This is a constant area of discussion—the direction we should head in.”
With Chris at the helm, mother Patricia has turned her attention more to a new line of clothing she's developing, Riddem Driven. Randy's wife, Kecia—who has a few complaints of her own, chiefly about the amount of work Randy takes home—has gotten drawn in as well. She now works in merchandising with Patricia at Riddem Driven.
Finding the best spot
Model Cleaners, Uniforms and Apparel LLC
Model Cleaners' slogan is “Quit fooling around and give us your clothes.”
With five brothers working together in the company's ten dry-cleaning outlets and uniform rental division, the owners can't afford to fool around, either. One way the LaCarte family keeps sibling rivalry at bay in their company, based in the Pittsburgh area, is by clearly defining each brother's role.
“We didn't just go oldest to youngest when appointing jobs,” says eldest brother John, 37, the president. “We've recognized each other's strengths and moved around to different areas of the company until we found the best spot,” Michael, 36, is general manager of dry cleaning. David, 35, manages sales, while Joey, 32, is general manager of uniform rentals. Youngest brother Danny, 24, who played college football, decided to tackle the family business when the Buffalo Bills opted not to sign him. Their father, Jack, 61, who purchased the flagship dry-cleaning location in 1986, still assumes the role of family mediator.
Management council meetings, which include the five brothers and eight non-family managers, help “take the family dynamic out of decisions,” John says. “We discuss objectives for the quarter with other [non-family] people who also have a stake in how well the business runs.” With $8.5 million in sales and a 32% five-year average annual growth rate, the stakes are high.
But the family dynamic does sometimes creep in, and John says he occasionally yields to family pressure to keep the peace. For instance, he initially wasn't thrilled with the “Quit fooling around” slogan, created by a marketing company, but several brothers who liked it convinced him to give it a try.
The LaCartes still use the slogan, but the accompanying graphic has changed. One of their former print ads featured a man in knickers and socks with the motto as the headline. When John's 90-year-old grandmother saw the ad in a newspaper, she called him and suggested he ditch the ad with “those legs in it.” That was the last time it ran. Now print ads feature clothes hanging on a hanger. “Everyone has their clothes on now,” says John. “So Grandmother still has quite a say.”
Advice from everyone
Flynn's Tire & Auto Service
At Flynn's Tire & Auto Service in northwestern Pennsylvania, everyone in the family tends to join in business discussions, whether they work at the chain of tire shops or not.
“We're all insiders,” says vice president Tania Warminski, 34. That includes her mother, Irena Flynn, who likes to find and compare competitors' ads and offer suggestions for Flynn's marketing materials. Even Tania's nine-year-old daughter, Aubri Warminski, has her own air-pressure and tread-depth gauge. But Tania says Aubri prefers helping out with paperwork in the back office.
“I was more of a tomboy than she is so far,” Tania says. “I loved working in the shop. I didn't spend a whole lot of time working on cars, but I did do some brakes and alignments along with technicians. I've shown Aubri how to put a car up on the lift, hoping some of that will get into her blood. But I'd never force her to enter the company.”
Flynn's was founded in 1964 by Tania's late father, Joe Flynn II, along with his brother, R.P. Flynn, and their father, Joe Sr. R.P. Flynn is still involved as an adviser; his teenage children, Annie and Jimmy Flynn, work part-time at the company's Kent, Ohio, location.
Tania says her passion for the business was kindled when she was little. That's also true of her brother, company president Joe Flynn III, 31. “This is the only thing he ever wanted to do—be a tire man,” Tania says.
Tania says she doesn't mind that her younger brother is in charge. She points out that he's single and has no children, while she values the flexibility to leave work to attend her daughter's soccer games and take her turn carpooling. That arrangement is especially important these days. Tania's husband, Joseph Warminski, is serving in the Army's 350th psychological operations company in Iraq. A project manager who helps plan and execute Flynn's ongoing expansion efforts when he's stateside, he's been overseas since Sept. 11, 2004.
The firm's 250 employees also have flexible schedules, Tania says. “We let them leave early or take a day off to go to a child's field trip,” she says. But customer-service standards are strict, she notes. To ensure superior service, Flynn's emphasizes employee training.
When her father was still alive, he traveled to Oregon with Tania and her brother to visit a 253-store tire chain and observe its training program. They also toured the Seattle Fish Market and experienced its renowned customer service.
In fact, Tania recalls, the day before her father died suddenly in 2002 of a brain aneurysm, the three of them had discussed plans to enhance the company's training.
Tania and her brother have since implemented an ambitious training program that now includes 43 online courses (for salespeople and technicians through Goodyear), which cover technical skills as well as customer service.
“Our family name is on that building, so we want to make sure we give the best quality work and parts,” Tania says. “We tell our employees, ‘If you make the customer happy, you'll make us happy.'”
Trust and sacrifice
“Your fuse is always shorter with family members,” notes 30-year-old Lissette Calderon, president of Miami-based Neo Development, a builder of high-rise apartments. “We have to make a conscious effort to talk to each other the way we'd talk to anyone else in any given position.”
For example, during the first three months of Lissette's pregnancy with her first child (due at press time), she was supposed to stay home in bed. But she chose not to, with construction under way on Neo's third project, a 433-unit high-rise. Lissette's mother, 47-year-old Maria Calderon, Neo's director of sales, did not approve. “She knew not to talk to me as a mother at the office,” Lissette says. “But she had a difficult time sitting back.” Outside the office, things were different. “She would talk to me from a mother's standpoint at home.”
Lissette says she plans to bring her new baby to the office. She knows her mother will enjoy watching the child grew up, as will her 22-year-old brother, Raphael, who works part-time in Neo's construction division while finishing college. “There's no other way I'd want to work, after experiencing a family-run enterprise,” Lissette says.
Lissette, who had previously worked for another real estate developer, founded the company in 2000 after a stint on Wall Street. She says she appreciates the trust and sacrifice involved in working with family. “I don't think anyone will run the sales division any better than my mother,” she asserts, “and there's no one I'd trust more to tell me the truth.”
She says family has been critical to the fast growth and success of the company, which reached $40 million in sales in 2004 after the previous year's $3 million. “When we started this,” she says, “both Mom and I didn't collect a salary; we lived off savings for over a year. I couldn't have hired another director of sales to do that for free for a year.”
Nor could she obtain free information technology services from anyone other than a relative. Her husband, Gabriel Albelo, 33, has his own software consulting company and runs Neo's systems in exchange for office space.
Sometimes, Lissette admits, shop talk gets in the way. “At family gatherings I find myself talking with my mother on the side about a deal or issue,” she says. “I have to catch myself and know when to let it go.”
Clinton Wilson, a journalism student at the University of Massachusetts, is working as an intern under the tutelage of Family Business contributor Jayne Pearl.