When Anita Zinsmeister was a student at Princeton High School, she swore she would never become an entrepreneur or the owner of a family business.
Her parents, Bernard and Lillian Fishbein, owned Bio Diagnostic Systems, which invented and manufactured clinical diagnostic tests for laboratories and an over-the-counter pregnancy test called Be Sure. Anita knew about the ups and the downs of running family-owned companies, especially the challenge of separating business from family life. Dinner table conversations were often dominated by business issues.
Fast forward several years later. With a degree in communication studies from the University of California at Los Angeles, Zinsmeister was building a successful career path working for companies in the airline, hotel, and health care industries.
In the late 1980s she took a Dale Carnegie course and realized this was the environment where she really wanted to be. She began working for the company in 1988, and a year later became a trainer. “I loved my work,” she says, “but there were some things I wanted to do differently.”
In 2000 she had an opportunity to become a Dale Carnegie franchise owner and saw the possibility of making the changes she had envisioned. That’s when Zinsmeister had a change of heart about entrepreneurship. She became the president of the southern New Jersey office, and two years later became president of Central Jersey region as well.
Based on her experiences and issues shared by Dale Carnegie clients over several years, Zinsmeister has co-written a white paper with Greg Cox, who heads Dale Carnegie Training in Chicago, titled “Pitfalls of the Family Business.” The paper states that 92 percent of businesses are family-owned, and 60 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in family-owned businesses.
Informality. Family business leaders often avoid formality in order to keep feelings from being hurt, to attempt to “keep the peace” by avoiding conflict, and by trying to keep the family dynamic in the forefront. This can actually undermine the pursuit of the desired business results. The solution: Come up with a shared vision, establish clear written policies, a reporting structure, written responsibilities for each person, and a formal business plan.
Isolationism. Family businesses can often be inwardly focused. There can sometimes be a feeling that innovation, ideas, and strategy can only come from the family gene-pool if they are going to be relevant or successful. This causes the business to miss out on significant insights that could save them a great deal of time, resources, and energy. The solution: Seek wise counsel. Get outside input and expertise from a wide variety of trusted sources in a variety of critical areas.
Lack of collaboration between family and non-family members. Decisions that do not leverage the strengths of non-family employees can interfere with the growth of the company. The solution: Foster healthy collaboration where decisions are made based on the right and most strategic thing to do rather than whom the idea is coming from.
Other potential pitfalls include family versus clients, emotional baggage, generational conflict, and ignoring the gorilla. To receive a copy of this paper, visit the Central New Jersey website: (http://centralnj.dalecarnegie.com) and click on the “Contact Us” tab or call 609-631-0500.
Zinsmeister’s personal contribution to the white paper was based not only on her childhood and current work, but also her family life. Partnering with her husband, Bob, she oversees operations in 13 New Jersey counties and has an office in Mercer at AAA Drive in Hamilton. Like Anita, Bob grew in a family-run business, the Zinsmeister Farm in Cranbury, known for the spinach, cabbage, and sweet corn it grew and sold. Bob has been with Dale Carnegie Training for almost 20 years. Today he is a company vice president overseeing trainers and operations and is responsible for Success Unlimited II.
Their son Andy is a corporate training consultant, and recently their son Nick started working part-time for the company in the area of information technology. A benefit of working with a company like Dale Carnegie, says Anita, is that it allows individuals to develop and share their own talents.
Dale Carnegie training centers offer in-person and online courses in business leadership, communications, sales, problem solving, and several related areas. Courses are intended for individuals, corporations, and work teams. It also offers smartphone apps plus videos and podcasts. Named after its founder, the company was formed in 1912, and today has offices in more than 39 countries. Courses in central New Jersey are scheduled through December. Most live courses begin this fall and many online courses begin this month.
Online courses range from $99-$1,695 depending on the course length and content, and in-person courses typically range from $1,695 to $1,895.
There are several free sessions offered this September in the Mercer County area, including an introduction to the Dale Carnegie Course (based on the original training) Wednesday, September 16, in Princeton, from 6 to 8:45 p.m. A free introduction to Leadership Training for Managers takes place Wednesday, September 30, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. in Hamilton. This course addresses issues facing managers in family owned businesses, other small business, and corporations. Topics include decision-making, persuasive communication, how to get buy-in on change, building trust, and converting ideas into results. The full course is offered in Hamilton over seven consecutive Wednesdays, starting October 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
In the overall picture, Zinsmeister’s take on entrepreneurship and family owned businesses is positive. Her father, whom she describes as a brilliant scientist, developed his company’s diagnostic tests himself, and her mother handled the bookkeeping and customer relations. Although she had a master’s degree in education, she turned down a position at the John Witherspoon Middle School to help run the business. “My dad would not have succeeded without my mom’s work,” Zinsmeister said, adding that her parents eventually sold the business and were able to retire comfortably.
“If you have a passion and a strong desire to do something in your life like start your own business, pursue it,” Zinsmeister says. “No doubt there will be challenges along the way, but the thing people often regret is not having followed their dreams.”