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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Family Business Dilemma




Editor’s Note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Anne Weiss grew up in a jewelry store. That’s how it felt, anyway. She remembered the days when she would get to the store after school, her dad working at his watchmaker’s bench while her mom was at the counter talking to a customer. She thought about how, back in 1968, Emil Weiss insisted that his only daughter go to college, even though his brothers told him he was crazy, and even though all Anne really wanted was come to work full time in the store.

It all worked out for the best, though. Anne earned her degree in business management while logging four years as a part-time salesperson for a mall jeweler. After graduation, she moved back home and took over her mom’s spot on the sales floor. Within two years, she’d completed her GG, and married her high-school sweetheart just a week after Emil’s retirement party. Emil was more than comfortable leaving the business he built in his daughter’s capable hands. He was proud of Anne’s dedication and intelligence, and proud of all he was able to pass on to her.

Anne worked hard for many years to grow her business. She saw the long hours, missed vacations and occasional broken promises to family and friends as the price she paid for success. She often told the story of closing the store at 5 P.M. one Christmas Eve, several hours after going into labor with her son, Joey. Like his mom, Joey grew up in the back room of E.L.Weiss Jewelers.

Anne tried her best to keep balance in their lives. After she and her husband divorced, however, finding a way to make it work as a business owner and as a single mom became more and more challenging. Joey, it seemed, resented the business, believing that Anne chose it over him. He struggled through high school, and much to his mother’s dismay, joined the Navy immediately after graduation. After eight years and a number of promotions, he re-entered the civilian world, taking a job as the manager of the local sporting goods store. He looked at his return as an opportunity to spend time with his mom and to rebuild their relationship. Three years after Joey’s return, Anne found herself facing a number of serious challenges at E.L. Weiss. Business growth had stalled, and it seemed that the average age of her customer had jumped at least 10 years. A new “superstore” in town seemed to be attracting a large majority of the local bridal business, and to make matters worse, her month-long effort to find a new salesperson/assistant manager had been totally unproductive. Anne was quite surprised when, after venting her frustrations to her son over lunch one day, Joey suggested that maybe it was time for him to join the family business.


After much thought and conversation, Ann hired Joey to fill the vacant sales position in the store. His military discipline and management experience, combined with his fresh perspective and countless contacts among the younger crowd in town proved to be the shot in the arm E.L. Weiss needed. Over time, Joey re-vamped the store’s bridal department and re-focused their marketing message, all while growing into a top salesperson. Just before his wedding, in the middle of his third year in the store, Joey took over as the manager of E.L. Weiss. Anne was more than happy to relax a bit, leaving her son in charge of the day-to-day operations while she spent time cultivating her private clients.

It didn’t take long for Anne the mom to notice that her new daughter-in-law was quite demanding. She insisted that Joey keep his work at the store, and that he manage his time to see that they didn’t compromise the social life she’d come to love. As time went on, Anne couldn’t help but see that her son seemed more and more stressed. As a business owner, she also noticed that her store manager had established a rigid 40 hour/week work schedule for himself. He made it clear that regardless of what was going on in the store, he needed to be out the door by 6 PM. The staff seemed content, however — and business was stable, even in a down economy — so Anne decided to back off and let Joey handle things as he saw fit.

Another year went by, and with it came the birth of Joey’s daughter, Emma. The baby brought a whole new sense of responsibility for Joey, and despite the stress, he seemed to be very happy. After his wife went back to her teaching job at the local community college, however, the strain of day-to-day scheduling and balance began to take its toll. It seemed to Anne that Joey was taking on most of the responsibility for Emma, and that it was his schedule — not his wife’s — that had to bend. Anne knew that the staff had begun to notice Joey’s frequent absences (having to leave the store whenever Emma needed anything or was sick and unable to go to daycare), and his general distraction in the store. At her house for dinner one evening, Anne overheard Joey and his wife discussing Emma’s upcoming pediatrician’s appointment. She was appalled when Joey was told in no uncertain terms that it was his responsibility to make time to get his daughter to the doctor — because “any fool could babysit a retail store for a couple hours” while he was gone.

The next day, Anne decided to have a talk with her son. She told Joey that she assumed he was interested in being the next generation owner of E.L. Weiss, and asked if he felt that his $80,000/year salary was adequate compensation for the job he was doing. Joey told her that the pay was “adequate” two years ago — but that he felt he should have gotten a raise last year, despite flat sales and profits. When Anne brought up the subject of his restricted hours and excessive absence, Joey lost his cool completely. He asked Anne how she could even suggest that he choose between his job and his family. He told her that he would never abandon his daughter the way Anne had abandoned him, and that Emma would not be raised in the back room of a jewelry store. He left the meeting after telling Anne that if his choices were not satisfactory to her, she could simply accept his resignation.

The BIG Questions
Is this a family issue or a business issue? How does the behavior of a family business heir-apparent impact a store team? Are the “work hard and pay your dues” standards of old still relevant today? Should Anne be more concerned about her role as Joey’s mother, or about her role as the owner of E.L. Weiss — and Joey’s boss? Is there a way to resolve this conflict that is fair to both Joey and to the store?
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