If you tell someone that you are a college professor, you get asked, “What do you teach?” If you tell someone you are a management consultant, you get asked, “What do you do?” In my consulting practice I organize small companies as the person they call in to get rid of former best friends, spouses or family members from the operation. Specialty: getting Pops to retire early.
The wife was in tears as her husband told me that their $17M a year international wholesaling company was tearing their marriage apart. She had been working as a registered nurse until a thieving employee, who the couple had regarded as part of the family, was arrested and charged with embezzlement. Now the woman in tears revealed that the arrested party had been the company bookkeeper and that she, the tearful one, had left the nursing profession to take the embezzler’s place. The marital problems began about the same time, two years earlier, and the discussion of divorce had begun.
The owner’s son would not look me in the eye as his father explained how everything had been running along just fine in his $8M a year filling station franchises, one at each end of the town. The son had closed his own profitable motor cycle repair business to come into the family company and try to get the operation back into the black from red hole that was swallowing the family alive. The son took me aside later and confessed that he didn’t know how much longer they could stay open that the banks were calling every day for loan payments. As to paying for consulting services to help save them, he didn’t know how the invoices could be paid.
The client’s wife and business partner in the $14M a year lumber company asked me if I was in law enforcement, as I walked through the office to step outside for a minute break. When I asked her why she thought that, she noted that I would ask a casual question each time we met and each time the questions seemed unrelated, but she was certain that they were related. Later, when the computer with the company books crashed, she retrieved a computer from home that had a copy of the books. Asked why she had been paying vendors from the client’s personal account, she mentioned the IRS lien on the business that had not been previously revealed.
These three cases are diverse but have elements in common that are typical of small multi-million dollar businesses. They all involve family members in some capacity or another. They are all on the brink of foreclosure, bankruptcy or collapse. They involve businesses that generate strong cash flow but produce a negative profit. In other words, they were all doing just fine and making money when they were million dollar companies and home life was good. Getting bigger was not better.
The three examples I have chosen are all from the pre-recession economy.
I have no objection to family members working for a company so long as the integrity of the business organization is uncompromised. To determine integrity I mean honestly answering some questions that need to be asked. Do working family members have job descriptions? Are they competent in their company position? Are they properly supervised? Do they conform to all company policies and procedures? Is their compensation appropriate?
These are the same questions that should be answered for any company employee, by the way. Look at it like this, Boss’s Spouse is not a job description. Being a business owner is not the same as being a competent business manager. Being a family member does not ensure proper supervision. Non-conformity to policy and procedure is what other employees look for, such as anything that appears to be special treatment. Working in a business without compensation is as bad a plan as being paid more than a non-family member would be paid.
A $100K a year salary for a $30K position looks like theft to employees. Not being paid for a $30K position is a terrible compensation plan and a false economy that is inconsistent with competent management.
The first case required solving the work-family boundary issues that created the marital problems. The second case required reorganizing the company and changing its management. The third case required law enforcement intervention. It is all part of being a family advisor and business savior. That is what consultants are.