Are family businesses a good thing (part 2)?

(part two of two parts)

My dad, Jay Lehman (age 80) still comes to work most every day.
My dad, Jay Lehman (age 80) still comes to work most every day.

At Lehman’s, we’re proud of our family heritage. We’re proud of the work that my father, Jay, with over 50 years on the job and still contributing, did to help Lehman’s succeed. It makes my day when a customer tells me we’ve done a good job, because each of us has poured our heart into doing the right thing.

At the same time, it absolutely tears me up when I know we’ve let a customer down. I know we’re not perfect. So, please let me know if Lehman’s has let you down. (Call 888-438-5346 and ask for me, Galen, or send an email to I want to fix it.

I want to believe that it’s rare for Lehman’s to let you down. But, why is it that some family businesses seem to consistently fail you? What is going on in behind closed doors that makes them such a bad place to shop?

To find out, I’ve been asking my Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers what they think.

Sam Chapman of Tweeted, “I’ve been an outsider in a very nepotistic and crazy one which would make me wary of working in one again.”

Another Facebook Friend wrote, “I’m SURE it depends on who’s running the family business..I know of a situation where some members were shown ‘favoritism’ over others thereby resulting in harsh feelings toward each other and creating a negative working atmosphere.”

Emotions can run high in a family business. It’s amazing how differently two people can view their treatment in any family situation. When there’s a lot at stake (inheritance, power, authority, wealth, etc), it can really get ugly.

One thing I know: When somebody is filled with bitterness, anger, hurt or (Heaven forbid) even hate, there’s no way they can take good care of customers. I tend to believe, therefore, that when a company doesn’t give good service it means there is a lot of unhappiness present. It may be buried deeply under the surface where you can’t really see it. Or, it may be pushing its ugly head up into the open. But either way, I’m sure it’s there when people seem incapable of giving good service.

Jay with me (Galen) and my sister Glenda
Jay with me (Galen) and my sister Glenda

At Lehman’s, we are working our way through the thicket of family emotions two ways.

First, Dad worked at the generational transition from a pretty early age. Unlike many family business founders, he refused to believe that he might be immortal and started planning for his death soon after he turned 50.

Thankfully, he actually does appear to be close to immortal. He started the process of transition almost 30 years and and is still strong physically and sharp mentally. He shows no signs of slowing down yet!

Our family’s nickname for him used to be “The Iron Man.” At 73, he was cutting firewood in the woods and suffered a nasty broken leg. The doctors put an 8” long stainless steel pin in his leg. So, we officially changed his nickname to, “The Man of Steel.”

His decision to start planning for succession even before he graduated from mere “Iron Man” status to super-human “Man of Steel” status, meant he has been there to talk us through the process. This helped to smooth out the succession process because we could discuss his plans.

The second thing we did was appoint a legal six member board that includes three non-family directors. These trusted and experienced advisers guide us through every major decision. The non-family board members have total control over the pay of family members, handling for us what could otherwise be a divisive issue. They even have the legal right to fire me if they don’t think I’m carrying my weight.

My friend Larry Sheets, who I’ve spent hours talking with about values, ideas and principles, wrote a Facebook post that said, “I suppose it depends on the family. I think Lehman’s is great. You seem to get along.”

It’s true, we do get along. At the bottom of our every disagreement is a simple and unshakable fact.

We love each other.

We’ve laughed, cried and hugged our way through a lifetime of joys, sorrows, successes and suffering.

In the end, I suppose that’s what makes family businesses work. It’s about the love!

Galen Lehman
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s

Galen Lehman
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PS – To see last week’s blog posting about what makes a family business worthwhile, click here.

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