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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Experts Panel Asks, "Let Us Work Together!

by Shel Horowitz

Going against the grain of many long-established family business owners, a banker, human resources consultant, insurance and financial planner, lawyer, and accountant got together at the Family Business Center's March 2 meeting-and pleaded with the audience to let your experts talk with each other.

The panel included members from all of the Family Business center's sponsor firms: Peter Landon of BankBoston, Paul Alves from Giombetti Associates (a personnel consultant), financial advisor Charles Epstein of Mass Mutual, Ron Weiss of the law firm Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, and CPA Joe Tirrello of PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Many family business owners keep their issues a closely guarded secret, letting in their advisors on a need-to-know basis.

Yet each of the panelists emphasized over and over again that you'll get more for your money if you let your experts work together as a team. For instance, Epstein: "All of us advisors want to provide you with direction. We add value by eliminating the dangers you face. It's much better if we can work as a team of advisors than individual meetings." It saves time and enables the team to come up with better solutions, he noted.

And Landon also cried out for communication. "If you don't want us at the meeting, send us a one-page summary afterward, or a strategic overlay before you start."

Weiss echoed this sentiment: "If you want your lawyer to negotiate a bank loan, and your lawyer doesn't know your strengths and weaknesses you're likely to default the loan." He pointed out that there's no advantage in keeping your key advisors in the dark. "Make sure your lawyer understands your business from practical and tax standpoints. Your lawyer will spot matters where legal advice can benefit you, help you work through the matter or refer you to a lawyer who can."

The entire team pointed out that while yes, they do sell products, their main job is to serve as the reality check for the business-even if that means recommending that you don't buy at the moment. Alves, discussing a CEO's compensation proposal for his sales staff, said, "Where's the incentive? I would get compensated if we put it in, but it's not going to help you meet your objectives."

The team agreed-that all your outside experts should be working to facilitate your goals, and not just pushing product. Tirrello noted that this is a recent development: "My role has changed. I have more breakfasts where I'm introducing my clients to lenders" and other key players. "We may not benefit directly, but we always look for opportunities to refer. You never know when the seed might become the next Apple."

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