R-e-s-p-e-c-t spells success for NH family run businesses
MANCHESTER - When Dennis Poirier and his older brother, Ron, bought the family car-repair business from their father in 1998, they made sure to split the ownership 50-50.
"It was very easy," Dennis Poirier, 54, said Friday. "None of us are greedy people. We basically had someone come in and do an appraisal of the business and what the property was worth, and we purchased it from our dad."
Bob & Sons Automotive on the West Side hums along with the company's founder, 83-year-old Bob Poirier, the brothers' dad, still stopping in every day to help. And a third-generation family member, Ron's son, Ian, 28, is learning the business.
"We have a mutual respect for each other," Dennis Poirier said. "That's our biggest key and in the fact we communicate."
Very few family feuds involve more money than the one playing out now within the Demoulas family, owners of the Market Basket supermarket chain that operates 71 New England stores and employs 25,000 people. The ouster of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas by his cousin has led to a workers' revolt and a widespread customer boycott.
The company's board Friday said it "will evaluate and seriously consider" offers from Arthur T. Demoulas and potentially others to buy a controlling stake in the company.
Dennis Poirier offered some simple advice to the Demoulas clan.
"Work it out. Sit down. Talk. Communication," he said. "Money's not everything. You only have one family."
Sometimes, families need outside help. Enter the University of New Hampshire Center for Family Business in Durham.
"It's not uncommon for family businesses to have some strife as they make transitions from one generation to another generation," said the center's director, Barbara Draper.
The center, she said, brings in experts who assist multi-generation families in transferring ownership and leadership from one generation to another.
"The more people you've got involved in ownership and management, the more complicated it gets," Draper said. "It's always a struggle around power and money."
Sometimes, those struggles end up in court.
Townsend Thorndike sued his brother, Charles, over ownership of Annalee Mobilitee Dolls Inc., a well-known dollmaker in Meredith started by their parents in 1951.
In 1992, the parents gave 48 percent of the business's voting stock to each son, leaving 2 percent to each parent, according to court papers.
The battle came before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
A 2006 court ruling said Townsend Thorndike accused his brother of "freezing him out" from the company.
The state's highest court, however, didn't rule on the case's merits, citing time limits for filing the court action.
"The two brothers just couldn't agree," Draper said.
At the height of its popularity in the mid-1990s, Annalee's was doing $15 million in annual sales and employed 300 people.
The company was sold in 2008.
The Thorndikes couldn't be reached for comment.
Neil Niman, UNH's economics department chair, said family-owned businesses often mix personal animosity with business decisions.
"That's the problem with a family business: it's run by people with interests other than economic," Niman said. "You're not making sound business decisions but making decisions because someone's got to win and someone's got to lose."
Family members often have long memories, he said.
"There are slights or insults that happened years ago that people don't seem to get over," Niman said.
"They remember and relive it, and it creates anger and resentment that goes on for years and years, which in privately owned family business, oftentimes you see these kind of disputes leading to the end of the company."
Draper said a parent running a company sometimes take pause over passing the business to the next generation until a successor is ready and may hire an interim leader from outside the family.
"Some of my companies do that for a transition period while the next generation is growing up, getting experienced enough, deciding whether they want to be in the business," she said.
Even some Market Basket customers understood the family dynamics playing out with the supermarket strife.
"There's nothing worse than working with family," Shirley Durette of Manchester said after shopping at the Manchester store last week.