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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

FBC Members May Come to Learn, But they Also Have a Lot of Wisdom to Share

by Shel Horowitz

Usually, FBC members come to listen. On December 8, they came to talk. 25 members, staff, and friends of the center gave up to four minutes each of core wisdom that's helped them succeed.

Ahead of the event, Center director Ira Bryck organized each presenter's key points into slides—but most speakers went far beyond their slide, even in the brief window they had. (Ira was standing by with a hook if speakers ran over, but he never had to use it).

Some themes surfaced over and over:

  • Healthy relationships (among employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders) are key to business success
  • Integrity is a core value
  • Take pride in being excellent (and give your employees the chance to take pride as well
  • Communicate clearly and often—and get written agreement if buy-in is mission-critical
  • Plan for the long term
  • Get advice from people you trust, both inside and outside of the business structure

Relationships

  • "Listen for the yes, so you can ally with it." (Martha Johnson-Gilburg, (retired principal) Growth Dynamics, Inc.)
  • "You can get huge ROI for appreciation. Sometimes it’s just noticing what someone has done. Tell them specifically what they did, and how it affected you. Spread compliments behind people’s backs; they may hear them better." (Ingrid Bredenberg, Human Resource Innovations)
  • "Take time to understand your people and what is important. Manage them based on their needs and understand them as a human being. Don’t let conflict or personality issues go unattended." (Michael Francouer, Joining Technologies)

Integrity

  • "If you stand in shit, you’re gonna get some on you. If you compromise your integrity or associate with shady people…you will get dirty by association." (Amy Scott, Wild Apple Design)
  • There are two key traits that I absolutely need: First, a mission of service ethic; it’s like worship for them, they live to make sure the customer, boss, co-workers are happy. Second, they have to be truthful." (Joanne Goding, Moss Nutrition)
  • "Abundance is freedom to be who you are, scarcity is resisting it. Carry the products that are in alignment with who you are, not what you think the market wants; the dollars will come, the market will follow you." (Faye Omasta, Hickory Dell Farm and Village Pharmacy)

Pride/Excellence

  • "Each year, choose one to three things to improve. It’s not overwhelming…These changes may seem small, but they have reaped big dividends." (Nate Nourse, Nourse Farms)
  • "I focus on excelling…it’s the small details, looking in the corners for dirt, going beyond the call of duty. We amaze our customers." (Peter Rosskothen, Log Cabin/Delaney House)

Communication

  • "Write it down and make it clear. That will translate to a long-lasting relationship…If someone orders a kitchen in August and we do it in November, they don’t even remember what they ordered…Everything that needs to be done is going to be listed, and on the side, we’ll put whose responsibility it is. And everything’s checked off…Ever since we did this, we've never had an issue with a dispute with a consumer." (Curio Nataloni, Kitchens by Curio)
  • "Don’t ever hire on the basis of one interview. Take them out to lunch, watch how they behave when they’re talking down [to lower-status people], watch interactions with employees." (Dianne Fuller Doherty, Small Business Development Center)
  • "For anybody in our business, you’ve got 24 hours to deal with what you’re not OK about If you come to me after that, it’s your problem. And if you interrupt, you pay a 25 cent fine. Chances are, if we’re interrupting each other, we’re interrupting customers." (Cindy Johnson, Fran Johnson's Golf and Tennis HQ)

Plan

  • "In the 1300s there was a chapel built at Oxford. The current curator discovered cracks in these huge beams…the people who set that chapel up had planted a grove of trees that had been protected, for that purpose." (Jeff Glaze, Decorated Products)
  • "You can’t assume that the thing you did yesterday and the day before is simple,. You have to think about it each time. The law could have changed, the people could have changed. If you find yourself pushing it out the door, stop for a second and look it over. You might find there’s a better way to do it." (Scott Foster on behalf of Ron Weiss, Bulkely Richardson & Gelinas LLC)

Advice

  • "There are a TON of really smart people glad to give advice (for free!)" (Jason Mark, Gravity Switch)
  • Coming to UM FBC has been a great place to not feel alone: dinners and roundtables. Roundtables are a safe place to share intimate details about the business and receive practical suggestions and advice." (Pete Haas, Hillside Plastics)

There was a whole lot more than can possibly be captured in this short article. So Ira has posted the slides and a brief summary of each speaker's commentary at http://www.umass.edu/fambiz/fbcwisdom.htm

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