Ah, the joys of office politics. Who's really got the power? Who
gets paid too much for what he actually does? Such questions cut
twice as deep when you're related to your office mates. Many travel
companies (including agencies) are family-owned, grappling with
such issues as who will succeed the parent as head of the firm.
Some of these family-run companies are turning to outside
sources for help. For example, the six related partners who own
Manhattan East Suite Hotels meet regularly with family business
consultant John Messervey of the National Family Business Council,
Lake Forest, Ill. "It's always helpful to have an objective person
who listens to people's comments without any hidden agendas," said
Brooke Barrett, the only woman partner.
The family turned to Messervey after the company's founding
patriarch, Benjamin Denihan, died. Though Denihan "did a lot of
estate planning, he didn't leave anybody in charge," said
Messervey helped the six develop a partnership agreement in
which everyone basically had an equal share, though Barrett's
brother, Patrick Denihan, is the managing partner. Now Messervey
acts as "a regular sounding board to help us work and communicate
better with each other," said Barrett.
For example, when the partners started thinking about strategic
planning, Messervey helped them realize that "if we wanted to grow
the company, we needed to have one of us focus strictly on
development," said Barrett's cousin, Daniel Denihan.
"We realized that if we hadn't done that, the Benjamin [the
company's latest property, which made its debut this April]
would've passed us by."
The Benjamin, of course, was named for Barrett's father. For
Messervey, the fact that the Denihans wanted to honor the company's
founder was a sign of the family's basic strength. Unlike the more
dysfunctional families he works with, the Denihans are "gentle and
effective with each other," he said.
"As much as it's work to get along with my brothers and cousins,
I love them all, and they're great to work with," said Barrett.
Avoiding family feuds
"It's important to keep the lines of communication open" when you
work in a family business, said Brooke Barrett, a partner in the
family-owned Manhattan East Suite Hotels. To keep those lines open,
the company has regular sessions with a family-business
For families interested in working smarter together, Barrett
suggested the following:Set up periodic meetings with a specific agenda.Develop very specific guidelines for how your business is going
to operate.When you're dealing with a conflict between family members,
"speak in 'I' statements, such as 'I feel hurt and angry when you
do that,' which doesn't sound as confrontational as 'You did that
and I'm mad at you.' "Be grateful for the advantage of family businesses. "So many
things are so much easier and more rewarding," said Barrett. "You
make quicker decisions knowing that the buck stops with you and
money doesn't go into shareholders' pockets."Develop guidelines for bringing the next generation into the
fold. Barrett's 28-year-old son and 27-year-old daughter are not in
the business now. "I've said, 'Go do other things and think about
it. If you're interested later, come to me,' " said Barrett.
With this strategy -- totally different from what Barrett's
father did with her, which was to expect every child to join the
business as a matter of course -- those who do come into the
business do it by choice and can also enrich the business with
skills they've picked up in the "outside world."
Ways to work with your mother-in-law
Here are more resources for family-owned agencies:The Family Business Council of Greater New York. This is a
Manhattan-based, nonprofit group set up to provide support to
family-owned businesses. Members attend workshops on such topics as
estate planning and tax saving; receive a bimonthly newsletter, and
participate in small forums that meet regularly. The annual
membership fee is $195 for individuals and $375 for companies. Call
(212) 684-7144 or check out the group's Web site, www.fambizny.org.Family Business magazine. This 80-page quarterly includes
articles on such topics as succession planning and the problems
women face in family-run firms. Subscriptions are $95; write to
Family Business Publishing Co., Box 41966, Philadelphia, Pa.
19101-1966 or subscribe on line at www.familybuspub.com.Check out the following books:
"Getting Along in Family Business: The Relationship Intelligence
Handbook" by Edwin A. Hoover and Colette Lombard Hoover. Two
psychologists' advice on achieving "relationship intelligence" by
understanding the emotional dynamics of family-owned companies;
"The Successful Family Business" by Scott Friedman. A lawyer and
business consultant's take on the topic; $22.95, Upstart Publishing
"The Family Business: Power Tools for Survival, Success and
Succession" by Russell and Roger Allred. Tips from two brothers who
own a consulting business; $12, Berkley Publishing Group.Calling all family businesses
How hard is it to be related to the people you work with? While
we told one story above about a family-run travel business, we're
looking for more case histories on the agency side.
If you think you and your family are a good example of a
business that runs well, let us know. We're especially interested
in hearing from families who have successfully dealt with real-life
conflicts. We're not looking to air dirty laundry, but the more
specifics you can provide on problems you've overcome, the
We're also looking for more stories about good-looking agencies.
If you think your agency is a candidate for "Architectural Digest,"
or you have a story about how you've solved an interior-design
problem, contact Agent Life editor Phyllis Fine at [email protected] or fax
her at (201) 319-1947.Hit banks -- that's where the money is
and loans, and credit unions represent a major source of potential
new business for leisure agencies. Think of it: Here they are,
sitting on a customer base that can easily be broken down into
segments based on the amount of money under deposit.
The banks are in a competitive business. A shift of a half a
percentage point in an interest rate can cost them a valued
customer. So you come along and propose a program that aids client
retention, brings in new customers and costs the financial
First, set up a meeting with the director of marketing. Do it
over lunch so you have time to properly make your pitch. Explain
that the bank is sitting on a true affinity group and that you can
provide a series of value-added benefits at absolutely no cost.
Help it set up a travel club and it will produce an ongoing,
renewable stream of upscale vacation business. The bank already
sends monthly statements to its customers. Why not include cruise
gift certificates, tour discounts, complimentary upgrades or
limousine service to the airport? Why not set up a special bank hot
line in your office so all travel program calls come directly to
you? Why not pay the bank a percentage of sales or reward its
marketing support with complimentary cruises or tours that can be
distributed to their top employees as an end-of-year incentive
award? The possibilities are endless.
A good salesperson will never drive past a financial institution
without thinking about the myriad of approaches one could use to
secure its business.
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the
agency Churchill & Turen Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill.
Contact him at [email protected].