Is it okay to HIRE YOUR PARENTS?

by Patricia Schiff Estess

Entrepreneurs running family businesses hire their parents as consultants or employees for a variety of reasons:

* The heir to the family business works out a consulting arrangement with a parent so the child can assume the helm while the parent provides occasional counsel.

* Entrepreneurs looking for reliable assistance tap into the reasonably priced knowledge and dedication of parents who act either as consultants or as trusted employees.

* Parents are facing uncertain financial futures. Pensions, once dependable retirement income sources, have shrunk. People are living longer and are fearful of outliving their money. Healthy, energetic people resist early retirement. And parents who lose their jobs as corporations downsize their work forces may have difficulty finding new positions. Worried adult children who feel responsible for "fixing" the situation may decide to hire their parents to help stabilize the parents' finances.

Does the shift in power, kids playing boss to their parents, work?

"Rarely," contends Fredda Herz Brown, a family business consultant in Leonia, New Jersey.

"It's too easy to fall back into the role of child," agrees Michael O'Malley, a family business consultant in Chicago. "Most children don't feel they have 'permission' to confront their parents. When there is a problem with a parent employee, most children become paralyzed and don't do anything to correct the problem for fear of losing the parent's love or affection." If a parent doesn't do a good job, it's often extraordinarily difficult to criticize, reproach or even steer him or her in the right direction.

Family business advisors point out several other concerns that come with hiring a parent:

* History. "No matter what, a child will not be able to treat a parent as he or she would treat another employee," says O'Malley. "There's too much personal history. Kids don't have experience in measuring their parents' performance, and they're more likely to make excuses for them, such as 'They're doing the best they can' or 'I know it was done in my best interest.' "

* Overstepping bounds. Bringing a parent in for moral support (as someone you can trust to give you kudos in addition to answering phones), can lead to tenuous situations, O'Malley warns. "When the business grows and becomes successful," he says, "the parent often feels his or her presence has been the key factor and assumes a position of power that's not justified."

* Relationships. Parents change the climate of the business and your relationships with others. "Let's say your best salesperson gets into a tangle with your father," O'Malley hypothesizes. "As a son or daughter, how will you react to the situation? How will other people react? An emotional triangle develops."

Best-Case Scenario

Despite experts' skepticism about this arrangement, it sometimes works. In one business Brown works with, the father stepped down to let his son take over the firm but stayed on as a consultant. His responsibilities in this role are specific and limited. "The father wants his son to have complete authority in the company. Although he's in the office daily, he moved out of the 'big office' so his son could have it," Brown says. "It's interesting, though, that the son felt out of place in his father's office. At the father's urging, he redesigned the office. Now he feels comfortable as the bossuand as his father's boss."

Adele Kaplan had an impressive career of her own, which included directing the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, before she started working for her sons. When she "retired" in 1988, Kaplan began working as a literacy volunteer teaching adults to read and coordinating a course in critical issues in world affairs at New York University in New York City. But she also had some free time. So she began helping her son David Liederman, founder of David's Cookies, in a number of different ways, including standing outside and ushering people into his cookie store in New York City. And when her other son, Bill, opened Mickey Mantle's Restaurant in the same city, Kaplan was there one day a week to greet patrons and answer mail.

Now her two sons have joined forces in a new venture, Television City, a TV memorabilia shop and soon-to-be restaurant across from New York City's Radio City Music Hall, and Kaplan is there twice a week greeting customers.

What does it feel like being your mom's boss? "We're totally confident that when Mom's in the store, customers will be treated well," says Bill.

"We're good together," agrees David. "When all the big issues are going wrong, we can laugh together over the dumbest things, like how we're going to sell six $19 pink elephants that nobody wants to buy."

Perhaps most helpful to the business relationship is that Kaplan doesn't believe in giving her entrepreneurially gifted sons advice. "They're entrepreneurs," she says. "I'm not." And besides, they already know her views on just about everythingu"they have since they were 3!"

Before embarking on a campaign to put Mom or Dad on the payroll, ask yourself some questions.

* Why do you want to hire your parent? The best reason to hire anyone, parents included, is because the business needs that person's services. "The worst reason is because you want to bail them out of a financial jam," says O'Malley. If that's the case, O'Malley suggests helping a parent find a job with another company or providing personal financial support outside the domain of the business.

* What is the history of your relationship with your parent? It should be one of mutual respect and easy communication. The best situation is one in which the parent has relinquished the role of mentor/teacher/critic and thinks of you as a peer.

* What do you need to discuss beforehand? You must be able to discuss the scope of the job the parent will be doing, his or her responsibilities, the salary, reporting arrangements, how you will handle a situation when you have to tell a parent what to do, and what to do if a parent starts acting more like the boss than an employee.

* Can you structure the job so it works best for your parent and for you? "Hiring a parent as a consultant who has the experience and expertise you need has the greatest possibility for success," says Brown. That's because with their limited duties, like writing a sales manual or trouble-shooting, and limited time frames, consultants don't turn the power relationship between parent and child completely on its head the way employment does.

The consulting option also takes into consideration that a parent may not want to work full time. Part-time and off-site work are other creative options when hiring parents. One writer, for example, employs her homebound father, a former research scientist, to scour publications for her; he mails her clippings weekly.

* Will you be able to evaluate your parent as an employee and, if necessary, end the business relationship without damaging the personal relationship? Before employment begins, agree to evaluate the arrangement within a reasonable time in the near future to see what is working, what isn't, how the business relationship can be improved and whether it should be terminated. If the trial period works out, then you can move to a long-term commitment.

If you can't answer these questions positively, proceed no further. As great an idea as hiring your parents may seem, it is difficult to overcome the psychological hurdles of this topsy-turvy relationship. And if it's going to jeopardize your personal relationship, it's not worth doing. (Entrepreneur Media Inc.)

Money and Health

Staying Healthy While Making Money

A fit body and mind keep your business in peak condition.

WHAT'S the state of your health? Not your company's health--your own. If you're like all too many entrepreneurs, you're too busy taking care of busi- ness to take care of yourself. But the bottom-line lifestyle that's so easy to get used to can endanger not only your personal well-being but also that of your company.

Which should give you all the motivation you need to put down that greasy ham- burger and pick up those carrot sticks. After all, you wouldn't treat your business in such a cavalier way, would you? Why should your body be any dif- ferent?

Sadly, however, entrepreneurs often fail to make the correlation between body, mind and business. "Typically, the entrepreneurs I've worked with have neglected their physical well-being for many years while they've focused on building their businesses," says Dan Barrett, a personal trainer in Miami. "Once they reach a certain age--say, 45--they become very concerned with what's happened to their bodies. The stress of business and the years of neglect [take their toll]."

The good news: Even the most hard-driving entrepreneur can get on track to better health.

Let's Get Physical

Of course, any call to fitness begins with a call to your doctor. The older you are and the more out of shape you are, the better an idea it is to get a physical checkup before beginning a fitness regimen. Once you're confident it's safe to proceed, set a few goals for yourself. Are you hoping to increase your energy? Do you want to shed some unwanted pounds? Are you trying to heal your aching back? Then set your goals accordingly.

"What I've noticed in working with entrepreneurs is they're usually very goal-oriented individuals," observes Barrett. "They approach [their training] like a business venture--they set their goals and go after them. But it's after those first [few months] that it becomes critical to incorporate this into a lifestyle change."

Needless to say, you're shooting for precisely that: a lifestyle change--one that, ideally, takes into account your cardiovascular health, your muscular strength and endurance, and your flexibility.

Rest assured, no one's asking you to gear up for a grueling marathon. "It's a fallacy that exercise has to be painful to be gainful," says David E. Wil- liams, a medical director at Scripps Clinic's Executive Health Program in La Jolla, California. "We have more and more evidence to indicate that moderate amounts of exercise over the long haul will accomplish all the benefits of more vigorous exercise."

Basic Training

At a minimum, you should plan to exercise for roughly half an hour at least three times a week. Barrett encourages his clients to choose activities they'll enjoy--whether it's power walking, bicycling, swimming or kayaking.

"It doesn't have to be an all-out effort," assures Kathleen O'Meara, fitness director for Boston University. "For someone who's just starting, intense ses- sions three times a week aren't [such a good idea]. Walking briskly four times a week might help get you into the groove of liking exercise."

Any workout should include stretching exercises at the beginning and end of the routine. But, says Barrett, if you only have time to do one or the other, he recommends stretching after your workout. Another tip: To reduce the likelihood of injury, engage in a variety of activities rather than con- centrating on one.

Even without injury, however, you can expect to initially feel a few ill effects from unaccustomed exertion. "You'll ache--especially if you've been inactive for a while," says O'Meara. "That feeling is fine; it's going to dis- sipate in a couple of days. On the other hand, if you're feeling exhausted, then you're doing too much."

You Are What You Eat

Speaking of too much: What have you eaten today? "Most human beings are weak-willed when it comes to food," says Williams. "If they see it and smell it, they're going to get into it. So for most of us, the safest [approach to good nutrition] is out of sight, out of mind."

Audrey Cross, a professor for the Institute of Human Nutrition and School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City, echoes Williams' senti- ments. "If you have a bowl of fruit on your desk, it takes no discipline to reach for a pear," she points out. "If you don't have a bowl of fruit on your desk, you'll reach for something [else]."

Planning, according to Cross, is key. "Think of your office as a health bank," she encourages. "You want to put things into savings there that you can draw out when you need them. If you have a small refrigerator in your office, for example, stock it with fruit juice, vegetable juice, yogurt and water."

Although healthy snacks are a plus, don't forget to eat nourishing meals--preferably at the same times every day. You probably have a good idea of what should be on your menu: foods low in fat, salt and calories. And, as they say, variety is the spice of life.

"You need to get the whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals [into your diet]," says O'Meara. "The best way to do that is [through] variety."

Above all, take the time to eat. Busy entrepreneurs have a bad habit of ignor- ing the rumblings of their stomachs.

It's All In Your Mind

To get yourself in top condition, you need to pay attention to more than just your physical health. For maximum performance, Michael J. Gelb encourages entrepreneurs to take regular "brain breaks."

Gelb, author of Thinking for a Change: Discovering the Power to Create, Com- municate, and Lead (Harmony Books), says these brain breaks can include any- thing from listening to classical music, doodling, meditating or even--no joke--juggling.

"If you don't take a break, your brain will make you take one," Gelb insists. "The ultimate way it does that is to force you to have a nervous breakdown. But in less dramatic ways, you'll find it becomes hard to concentrate."

At the very least, says Gelb, allow yourself a five- to 10-minute break two or three times a day. You might be surprised at the difference these brain breaks make.

What difference will a renewed focus on health mean to you and your business's performance? Personal trainer Dan Barrett says the number-one reaction from clients is they notice an increase in energy. Stress reduction is another benefit.

Chances are, a healthier lifestyle will also help you sleep better, reduce your risk of depression, assist in weight control and enhance your self-image. Can there be any doubt improved productivity will result?

"Once [clients] get going, they say, 'I don't know what I did before I did this,' " reveals Barrett. "When they miss their workouts, they really feel it." (Debra Phillips, Entrepreneur Magazine)

Improving Relationships

Cooperation or Competition?

If you want your suppliers to perform better, teach them how, says Norbert J. Ore, director of purchasing for Sonoco Products Co. in Hartsville South Carolina.

"Suppliers can be a much greater asset than we've allowed them to be in the past," says Ore. "If you don't make suppliers an integral part of your business, you run the risk of not staying competitive." He offer these tips for a mutually productive relationship:

* Encourage honest communication. "Create an environment where both parties can talk openly about cost, service and product issues," Ore says. Tell suppliers you welcome their input because they may know something you don't. For example, perhaps changing your delivery schedule could result in substantial savings.

* Be generous with information. Educate supplier about the various aspects of your business, including the challenges you're facing and what your customers' expectations are.

* Learn about your suppliers. "I spend time with suppliers, learning about their business, what their strategy is, what direction they're going, and how I fit in as a customer," Ore says.

* Look for opportunities to jointly use the latest technology. Whether you communicate via the Internet or modem, share database or use bar codes, the key is to take advantage of available technology to improve your mutual efficiency.

* Bring your people together: Send the staffers who are working with the products to tour the supplier's facilities, and invite their counterparts to visit you. "Recognize that people are involved in all the [stages], and people work better when they understand the whole process they're part of," Ore says.

* Include suppliers in your in-house training. It may be appropriate to invite suppliers to participate in some internal training sessions; when they know what you're teaching your employees, they will know how to deliver what you need to meet your objectives. Suppliers may even be willing to help out with the costs.

Before opening your internal operations, Ore says, it's a good idea to ask suppliers to sign confidentiality agreements. Used in the same context as employment agreements, such contracts can create feelings of mutual commitment. And just as training builds loyalty among employees because it makes them feel valued, Ore says you'll find the same applies to suppliers.

"You have to decide whether you want a cooperative or a competitive atmosphere," says Ore. "A competitive atmosphere assumes that if I win, you lose. A cooperative atmosphere assumes that we both could win."