PUBLISHED: 4:21 PM on Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Don't let your family business become a family feud
Businessman-turned-author learned the hard way what can happen when blood, money mix
Anyone who's ever had to work with a spouse, a sibling or an in-law knows that sometimes the family business can resemble a family feud.

Keeping a company solvent much less profitable is hard enough without the added stress of keeping the peace with someone who's seen you in your ratty PJs or knows you sing Barry Manilow ballads in the shower.

"When families fight in a business setting, it jeopardizes the livelihood of other individuals," said Larry Colin, who along with his wife, Linda, has written a book to help show relatives how to work together.

"Family Inc." grew from Larry's personal experience.

His grandfather emigrated from Poland and opened a window-cleaning business in 1913 in Yonkers, N.Y. The enterprise grew to employ about 10,000 people and expanded to include the gamut of janitorial services.

The mix of money, blood and power proved to be toxic when Larry and his brother couldn't see eye-to-eye and ended up selling the business.

"It's tragic that we couldn't resolve our conflict," Larry said. "That business had been in the family for four generations."

Although the family business dissolved, the Colins had beaten the odds. Only 30 percent of family-owned businesses survive to the second generation, 10 percent to the third and 3 percent to the fourth, according to the International Family Enterprise Research Academy.

Although Larry learned too late how to recognize issues and turn them around to save his family business, he's put some success strategies down on paper.

The easy-to-follow outline gives real-life scenarios that can work in any business setting.

Chapters such as "The Parent in a Pickle," "In-laws Under the Influence" and "Uncle Ben Marries ... Again" offer practical ways to address problems and get past them.

"When you're dealing with family, it's easy to put your head in the sand when you see a problem," Laura said. "Often we don't want to seek help because the issues are so personal. ... But if we have legal problems, we have no qualms about getting a lawyer or having an accountant help us out of financial trouble."

The Colins consider the tome a reference book of sorts. When conflicts arise, go to the section that best reflects your situation. Follow the action steps to help you get the focus back on the business.

"You can win at business and at family life," Larry said. "Whether you're a roofer, a dry cleaner or a Fortune 500 company, the only difference is the number of zeros in your earnings column. ... You feel the same hurts and have the same struggles."

Tips on dealing with family and business

• Act now so you're not disappointed later. Family-based problems won't disappear with time.

• Everyone in the family is in the family business. Even if you don't work in it, you're affected by it.

• Call in the cavalry. Don't let embarrassment, ego or expense keep you from hiring family business consultants or talking to a therapist.

•Everyone in the family should treat the business with the respect it deserves. That means not using it as the family ATM or the career choice of last resort.

Arlinda Smith Broady is business editor of the Savannah Morning News. She can be reached at