Corrections or additions?
These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the
March 28, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Survivors In the Family Business Game
Fear is often the motivation for starting a family
"It’s the need to survive, what we used to call `Depression
says Mark Kasrel, a psychotherapist who consults to family and
other small businesses. He saw this at work in his own family. "My
father’s mother had to open a business on the boardwalk in Asbury
Park to feed her three kids," he says. His maternal grandparents,
owners of a store that sold high end lingerie, were in business too,
as was his father, an optometrist.
While fear works wonders in getting a business off the ground, it
can strangle its growth, says Kasrel. He discusses this and other
issues common to family-owned businesses when he speaks at the Rutgers
Family Business Forum at the Cook Campus Center on "Anger and
Conflict Resolution" on Thursday, March 29, at 8 a.m. Cost: $25.
Call 732-445-7504, ext. 21.
Kasrel, who holds a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia Wesleyan
College (Class of 1970) and a master’s degree in counseling and group
process from Seton Hall University, was himself involved in a family
business for a short time. "My wife and I sold hot tubs,"
he says. "She was the boss and I was the muscle." This
worked well, and demonstrates an essential ingredient for success
in a family business. "Someone has to be the boss," he says.
Roles have to be delineated, but even so, "one person shouldn’t
make all the decisions."
Traditionally, the boss was most often the father, and the successor
the son, but this is changing, Kasrel says. Not only are daughters
being seen as valuable in important roles, but sometimes it is the
younger generation that is taking the lead. One of his clients is
a young man who had planned to be a professional skateboarder until
an injury knocked him off his board. Looking for a new direction,
he teamed with his father on a website design business. "He’s
the front man," Kasrel says of the former skateboarder. "He
depends on his father for back office support."
Whether the nucleus of a family business is a father and son, a
and wife, or a sister and brother, the problems common to any startup
tend to be amplified. "You have to eat dinner with these
Kasrel says. "You celebrate Thanksgiving with them." Some
of the issues include:
a life without paychecks and employer-supplied health benefits hangs
on. A business’s founder often has to resort to extreme measures to
get financing. Then, Kasrel says, "he has to sweep the floor,
do the accounting, lock up at night." The result, he says, is
a person whose attitude is, "`It’s my boat, I’m going to drive
it.’" Trusting anyone enough to turn over important tasks becomes
difficult. "They’re secretive," Kasrel says. But if the family
business is to grow, the founder has to relinquish some control, often
to the next generation.
is highly valued," Kasrel says. A person who has been a faithful
employee for many years is often the person who gets the promotion,
regardless of his skills. This can put incompetent people in positions
of authority, he says, and undermine the business’ chances for
member may not have the skills for a particular position. Or a family
member may not want to continue in the business. "Children can
grow up hearing `it’s such a grind. I’m working 12 to 14 hours a day.’
They may not want that life, but they don’t want to disappoint their
parents." In either case, for the good of the business, Kasrel
says, "you have to look past blood."
on business issues, Kasrel often finds the root of the problem is
that "someone feels angry, hurt, or scared." Children,
their ages, continue to want to please their parents. "It’s hard
for them not to hear criticism as personal," he says. This makes
it especially important for family businesses to separate family life
from their company. Still, family businesses are different, and
concerns do tend to pop up. "If one of the kids who is going to
take over the business is getting married, dad may say he wants a
pre-nup," Kasrel says. "This creates conflict. To the kid,
this looks personal."
in the day-to-day," Kasrel says. "Everything is urgent. Very
little is planned." In this atmosphere, employees — family
members and outsiders alike — become uneasy. They see the owner
working long days, always at top speed, and "wonder what’s going
to happen if he has a heart attack." Develop a vision, Kasrel
says. And make sure there is a succession plan in place.
and Entrepreneurship as well as the owner his Cherry Hill-based
company, has no desire to bring his wife, Shelly, or 16-year-old
Jaclyn, into his business. "As much as I believe in family
he says. "I like to keep it separate."
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Six years ago, when Eric T. Bielawski gave up the
of corporate law to work with his father at White Eagle Printing,
he did it on a temporary basis. "I gave him a year
he says. "My father was 58, and he was worried about
Six years later the son has succeeded the father, Ted, as president
of the 30-person family business, a full-service multi-color printing
firm in Hamilton Township.
"My father talked about printing all his life, but it’s tough,
always being in someone’s shadow," says Bielawski, explaining
why neither he nor his brother had wanted to go into the business
at first. After majoring in economics at the University of Richmond
and earning a law degree from Widener University, he spent six years
practicing corporate and securities law at Mylotte David & Fitzpatrick
in Philadelphia. In 1990 he took a paycut for the tryout year while
his wife, Suzanne, continued to practice family law. Now they live
in Mount Laurel with three children under three years old.
When the company was founded in 1927 by Ted’s father, Albin Bielawski,
it published and printed Polish newspapers and other ethnic papers
in Camden and Trenton. Now, at its 15,000 square foot office on Kuser
Road, which it shares with Mercer Business magazine, the monthly
of the county chamber of commerce, White Eagle focuses on high-end
projects such as annual reports, brochures, magazines, and direct
mail pieces (609-586-2032; fax, 609-586-8052). "We have a brand
new eight-up image center (with eight pages on a piece of film) and
two through six-color presses, and a complete bindery with
capabilities," says Bielawski.
His decision pleases both parents: "It’s a family based business
— my mother is happy to see the direction it is going."
But it wasn’t until the tryout year that he knew this would work.
"I enjoy this business — it’s a great business," he says.
"It’s fun running your own company. It is different from being
a lawyer. You are actually manufacturing something and seeing tangible
results. You get happy clients every day. You are actually relied
on by a lot of companies. And when you pull through for them on short
deadlines you get a sense of satisfaction."
If your bookkeeper never rolls into the office before
noon, or your vice president is having more tantrums than usual, or
perhaps your mail room clerk, once an exemplary employee, is
the mail he does not lose, you might want to call the Department of
Labor. Based in Trenton, its Employer Human Resources Support Services
office stands ready to consult on troubled employee issues, and much
Len Morganelli, a senior human resources analyst, says his
responds to 100 calls a month from employers of all sizes with
on HR subjects like interviewing job candidates, drawing up handbooks,
substance abuse, and performance appraisals. On about a quarter of
those calls an analyst goes to the job site, observing the situation,
interviewing managers and employees, and recommending a course of
action. There is no charge for any of these, and Morganelli says all
information is kept confidential. "We’re just like outside
consultants," he says.
Morganelli speaks on managing difficult employees on Friday, March
30, at 9 a.m. at the Department of Labor in Trenton. Cost: $10. Call
Morganelli has been working for the Department of Labor for 26 years.
A graduate of Jersey City State College, Class of 1975, where he
in biology and English literature, Morganelli joined the Department
of Labor at a friend’s urging. A native of Jersey City, he now lives
in Point Pleasant Beach.
After consulting on human resource issues for 13 years, Morganelli
has concluded that "frequently, the employee who causes problems
at work is not doing this because it is what he wants to do. There
is often illness, or family problems, or financial problems, or
problems." Whatever the cause, the fallout can be significant,
affecting a wide circle of employees and disrupting work. For
coping with a difficult employee Morganelli offers this advice:
problems with our coats," Morganelli says. There may be a problem
at home, but it is left behind as the work day begins. Others,
can’t shed the worry over a sick spouse or an overdue mortgage payment
so easily. Their absences increase, the quality of their work
and they may even become argumentative. Sitting down with the employee
may uncover the reason for the decline in his performance. It is
to be careful in questioning him, though. "You can say `Would
you like to tell me about it?’" Morganelli suggests. "But
you can’t use a phrase that invades an individual’s private space.
If you say `Are you and your wife having problems?’ you have stepped
over the bounds of the employer/employee relationship."
the employee’s poor performance is the result of an emotional or
problem, don’t try to treat him yourself. "You are not a
Morganelli says. Refer the employee to an employee assistance program.
He recalls a situation where intervention restored equilibrium to
a office, while helping out a possibly suicidal employee. "An
employer was closing a plant," he says. "They had other
and most of the employees were transferred, but there were several
lay-offs." The lay-offs were not to take effect for eight months,
and the performance of one of the individuals affected, a man who
had been a stellar employee, plummeted. His work output declined,
its quality was poor. He became belligerent, upsetting other
and began to speak of suicide. A talk with the employee revealed that
his wife was ill, he had two children in college, and he was
about his financial future. The employer paid for therapy to help
him explore his options and for financial counseling, and his
it is important to clearly state the problem, demand that negative
behavior stop, set a timetable for improvement, and put forward the
consequences of failure to rectify the problem. An informal talk is
not the way to go, Morganelli says. It leaves room for vacillating
and misunderstanding. The employer’s course of action needs to be
clear, and, just like a parent, he needs to stick with it.
Having a policy for dealing with employee discipline in place before
problems occur can be a help, but Morganelli says there are two
of thought about whether small employers benefit from drawing up these
plans. "On the one hand, some people say `if you have nothing
in writing no one can sue you,’" he says. But not having a policy
invites unequal treatment and resentment. One employee, Morganelli
gives as an example, may report not feeling well and go home at 2
p.m. one day without penalty, and another employee, catching the bug,
may ask to go home early the next day only to learn he has been
goofing off may be too bright for his job, Morganelli says. In his
experience, a transfer is often the best way to turn a troubled
into a star. And sometimes, the employee who has become balky may
be reacting to an inflexible, overly demanding supervisor. In that
case, getting rid of the underling will do little more than set up
the next hire for a difficult situation.
to instruct employers to lead by example." All of the employees
will be watching as their boss grapples with a difficult co-worker,
and their impression of how he handles himself will linger. Morganelli
says, "Like Caesar’s wife, employers do have to be above
Thomas F. Minton, a FBI high-tech crime
addresses McCarter Theater’s audience on Sunday, April 1, at about
3:45 p.m., following the 2 p.m. performance of Arthur Kopit’s new
cyberspace drama, "Because He Can." The lecture is free, but
tickets to the play, directed by Emily Mann, cost $29 to $52.
The play repeats at 7:30 p.m. One need not attend the performance
to attend the free talk. Call 609-258-2787.
Minton heads the FBI’s Regional Computer Intrusion Investigative Unit
based in Somerset. He has worked on foreign counterintelligence and
international terrorism and been involved with the Melissa virus and
other high-profile investigations. "We concentrate on computer
intrusion matters that can have an effect on national security,"
he says. "We are interested in the type of criminal featured in
[Kopit’s] play, but we really concentrate on the one who can bring
the infrastructure to a grinding halt."
Minton has been with the FBI for 10 years, first in the Buffalo
working on violent crimes and major offender cases, and then at the
District of Columbia headquarters. Two years ago he was named to be
in charge of the agency’s first regional computer intrusion crime
squad, based in Newark.
In the McCarter play, a stalker goes after the cyberspace privacy
of a Manhattan couple. It is billed as an "edgy, erotically
information-age thriller that examines our relationship to the
we create, and the control it can have over our lives."
From shopping carts to war of the galaxies intro pages
complete with four-color meteorite showers and singing aliens, there
are just so many cool things you can do with a website. Think twice,
though, before succumbing to any gee-whiz impulses. "We all want
to use this technology," says website developer Dana
"It’s like you get a new toy. You want to play with it. You want
to see what it can do." But be careful, Hutchins advises. Don’t
let technology — or anything else — throw up barriers that
will keep your website’s visitors from doing what you want them to
Hutchins, owner of a four-year-old Trenton-based website design firm
called Inforest, speaks on "making your website earn its keep"
on Wednesday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. at Mercer County College. Cost:
$25. Call 609-586-9446 for further information.
A graduate of Princeton High School, Hutchins earned a bachelor’s
in forestry from the University of Vermont (Class of 1991). He used
the Internet extensively in his class work in the late-1980s before
browsers made the exercise easy. In forestry, he says, it’s all about
measurements and forecasting "how to reap the highest gain over
multiple objectives over time." He found the Internet the ideal
way to run these forecasts, and turned to the medium again after he
graduated and was putting out a forestry newsletter. The first website
he built was for Inforest, his newsletter. After a lack of demand
shut the newsletter down, he kept the name and started a website
Inforest has three employees and a client roster that includes McGraw
Hill, the New Jersey Press Association, Princeton University’s
engineering department, and Columbia University, along with
but established, companies that are working on developing a web
"We’re still formulating what web layout is, and what it should
be," Hutchins says. "It’s close to print, to lay out on a
page, but it’s really a mix between a printed page and an interface
to a program.. It’s an evolving thing." To get the most out of
a website, Hutchins recommends the following strategies:
it all comes down to what the basic function of a website should be
in terms of what you want your users to do," Hutchins says. If
you want them to buy, make it easy. One of his clients,
an E-tailer of sensitive skin products, has just a handful of
but made potential customers use a shopping cart. This element added
5 to 10 steps to the buying process. "We put the order form on
the same page as the catalog, and cut it down to one or two,"
The same principle applies to sites whose purpose is increasing a
company’s contacts. Make it easy for potential clients to get in touch
with you. Many sites direct users to fill in an E-mail form to request
information, but "people don’t like that," Hutchins says.
The big, blank space stops them cold. "They prefer a form,"
he says. "People like to be prompted, to be told what to do."
There is a tendency for website owners to think "`I’m not really
asking that much. Just write an E-mail,’" Hutchins says. But this
approach can be fatal. "The easier you make it," he says.
"The more response you’ll get."
for a website tend to be too high or too low," Hutchins says.
Some new website owners put the things up just because they are
when clients ask for their company’s web address, and they don’t have
one. They tend to expect little or nothing from the website. Others
expect the Internet presence to create a windfall.
A better approach is to consider a website to be a part of a total
marketing plan and to measure how well it is doing in relation to
other tools. It is now possible to determine how many users visit
a site, where they clicked to get there, what they do on the site,
how often they return, and whether they make a purchase or abandon
a full shopping cart.
Use these tools continually to evaluate how the website is doing,
and to guide adjustments. "If you have a new product, but no one
is looking at it," he says, "move it up to where it will get
attention." And if you are paying for a banner ad on another site,
but few visitors are clicking over to you from that site, consider
dropping the ad.
concise, and streamlined. The same qualities that make these websites
easy to navigate secures them high search engine rankings.
for search engines is the same as writing for people," Hutchins
says. Most surfers type in a company name, perhaps Discount Realty,
or the name of a service and some geographical markers, something
like Princeton, New Jersey, real estate. If neither of these search
queries brings up Discount Realty’s site, the company has wasted its
website development dollars, says Hutchins. The best way to avoid
Internet anonymity, he says, is simply to put the company name in
the website’s title line and to add a description of what the company
does. In the case of TaylorsTreasures this meant adding the words
"sensitive skin" to the title line. "
Some search engines go beyond the home page in figuring out what a
website is all about, but many more just stop there. This makes that
page critically important. The key words used on the home page must
reinforce what the company does, and thereby earn the site a higher
search engine ranking.
at your website through search engines, others can be brought from
links on other sites. Exchanging links with other sites is an
way to build traffic, Hutchins says. Sites that sell products should
have links from the companies that manufacture those products. Sites
belonging to accountants or architects can have links from their
associations. "I could exchange links with a networking
Hutchins says. "We’re in the same industry, but we don’t
Breaking a "real world" taboo, Hutchins says even competitors
may benefit from linking to each other.
Hutchins, must be the guiding principle behind every decision relating
to an Internet presence. "People don’t go on your site to see
that cute animation," he says. "You need to keep in mind what
they’re there for, what you want to get across. It has to be fast,
and it has to be flawless."
Corrections or additions?
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