Ask Amy – Credit Where Credit Is Due

Dear Amy,

I work with my brother now in our family’s firm.  I’m an accountant by training and I function as a CFO.

Most of our employees are men, and I’m very comfortable with the guys in the field–the men there respect my role and me. But I am tired of being in meetings in our offices where I suggest an idea and either it’s ignored or the men in the room talk about it and then claim it as their own.

How can I have my voice heard?

~ Hannah

Amy KatzDear Hannah,

I think your voice is being heard.  It’s the credit that’s missing. Lately I’ve been reading books by Barbara Annis, who writes about the different ways men and women communicate at work, based, in part on the difference in their brains. She co-authored a book called Work with Me with John Gray, who wrote that very popular book Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus.

There are a lot of great ideas and examples in that book and I encourage you to take a look at it. One section focuses on the different ways that men and women seek credit.  The authors make a point that men tend to take an idea (from anyone) and play with it a bit, refining it, building on it, and in the process, “owning” it. They are more accustomed to co-creating an idea so that it becomes a “team” idea.

Perhaps when a woman is the only one in the room, her sensitivity to the way her ideas are included is heightened. I wonder if she’s protecting her value to the group–not just a particular idea–in a way that men don’t feel they have to.

That being said, you have an important role in the business, one that typically does gain respect because it’s tied to financial results. So perhaps you could benefit from asserting yourself more deliberately. Make sure you have a regular place on the agenda, (or suggest an agenda if the group doesn’t use one!). Move forward in your chair when you speak, and then speak slowly. Men focus on results–and you have them. That’s a source of power and influence.

Finally, I don’t know much about your brother or his role, but as your partner, he can play a role in assuring that you’re heard. If you feel comfortable about it, suggest to him that you’re concerned that the financial side of the business is not getting the attention it deserves. He may be surprised…. or disagree…but either way, you will get his attention.

It’s wonderful that you have achieved a significant role in your family’s business. Now it’s time to make it work for you, as well as for the business!

All the best,


Ask Amy: Should I Take A Second Job?

Dear Amy,

My family has a business in South Carolina that has been awarded several government contracts over the past few years. I work in our DC office, which we established so that I could develop connections and relationships there (I’m responsible for business development).

The business has been doing fairly well, but we have fewer contracts this year and I am considering finding additional work so that I don’t have to take a paycheck from the business. My parents aren’t telling me to do this. Also, I’m fairly sure I can find another position in DC while continuing to develop contacts for our business.

What do you think about this idea?

~ Sherri

Amy Katz Dear Sherri,

Let’s take the salary idea off the table for a moment. If you are working at another organization, I assume there will be an expectation that you are fully committed to it. So I would be sure that you are ready to make that commitment, which in a city like DC could mean you work well beyond 40 hours a week! You may want to see if it’s possible to work on some kind of a part-time or contract basis so that you will be able to focus on your family’s business as the same time.

But more important, the work should be fun and fulfilling – if not, why invest your time and talents? If I were you, I would look for a position that provides me with opportunities to develop my skills in areas that I know will be valuable to me over time. In your situation, you may want to look for work that broadens your network with organizations in your industry, and that also gives you the opportunity to build relationships and credibility.

Back to the salary question. As you say, your parents are not telling you to give up your salary while you’re working in the DC office. And I’m not either… I know other daughters who’ve made similar choices. But it does take resources to set up a viable office in another city, particularly one as expensive as DC. It’s the cost of doing business. If you think that DC will continue to be an important center for ongoing contracts and connections, perhaps it’s best to take those expenses into account right now?

I will leave you with that question-and wish you all the best as you figure out your own answer!





Have you ever felt like Sherri? Please share what your decision was and how it turned out.

How to Advise Your Family’s Business

DiC - Become your family's business advisor

Whether your family owns a retail business, a factory or other operating business, a restaurant, or a professional service firm, you can help your parents and other family members make wise decisions that protect the family’s assets and interests.  And you don’t have to be a lawyer or an accountant to do it. From time to time, though, you may need outside experts to help navigate in times of distress or difficulty.

Robin Coady Smith, Co-founder of Privatus CI3O, observes from experience that family business owners — and their families — are often unprepared for the many diverse decisions and events  that confront them.  How they respond to both planned and unplanned transitions can chart the course for a business family’s ongoing financial security and emotional well-being over time.

An experienced transition expert to wealthy families, Robin knows that business owners are often dependent upon technical experts from many fields — lawyers, accountants, business valuation experts, and others.  They may speak in terms that family members don’t understand, about decisions and recommendations that have huge implications. And if these advisors don’t work together, or offer conflicting advice, the family can feel pressured and fear a loss of control, at times with devastating consequences.  This is where a transition expert like Robin can restore calm, control and help to create alignment between family and advisors.

So what can you do to help protect your family and the business?  Robin has several suggestions:

1.  Learn about risk.

Not your capacity for risk, but the ways risk in your business affects the bottom line. Examples of risk might include outdated technology,  a lack of up-to-date processes and procedures, and an overdependence on too few clients.  Equally significant are intangible or softer risks, which are more difficult to recognize because they don’t appear on financial statements.  These are the risks related to governance, such as what should happen if the CEO or president dies and there is no succession plan. Another item of softer risk is knowledge, such as the possibility that the business lacks essential skills or industry insights. Could your industry or the economy change dramatically, making the business less competitive?  Would it make sense to sell the business?  How might these risks affect the value of your business and its potential sales price?  What are the options for selling or holding on to the business?  In other words, understand the risks in your business from various vantage points.

2. Cultivate relationships with experts both in your community and beyond.

Your mother or father or others in charge undoubtedly rely on a number of advisors.  While these advisors may be excellent, their skills and how they work may better suit your parents’ wants and interests. You may want to build connections with your own potential experts and advisors, as the challenges and decisions that you will face some day may be very different from those faced by your parents.

3. Bring advisors together.

Suggest that your parents (and/or others directly responsible for the business) bring their trusted advisors together for group meetings.  Offer to act as the facilitator.  Pay attention to how the advisors relate to each other.  Are there too many advisors who share a  similar focus, such as investments or taxes?  Do they seem more accountable to their firm than to your family?  Robin emphasizes that a good advisor will put your family’s expectations and interests ahead of their own.  Just as important, they will collaborate with other experts in achieving the family’s expectations for results.

4. Keep asking questions.

If you don’t understand an advisor’s recommendations, ask him/her to talk in plain language. Get past the jargon. Make sure you understand the answers, and make sure your parents do too.

Your efforts to bring the advisors together with your family will help to assure that they  work well together, with an understanding and concern for your family’s needs.  And as a result, you may end up being one of the best advisors your family has ever had.


Easy Effort

I’ve been taking Pilates for several years now. In case you’re not familiar with it, Pilates involves a series of exercises and movements designed to promote flexibility and strength. Meghan Arata, the founder of a Pilates studio called The Breathing Room, is a wonderful teacher of both the theory and practice.

During her classes, Meghan often uses the phrase “easy effort gets you started”. The phrase is always helpful, whether I’m trying to achieve a set of challenging movements and even when I’m struggling to fully relax into a deep stretch. But beyond Pilates classes, Meghan’s phrase has become a mantra in other areas of my life as well.

In Pilates, Meghan says, beginning a difficult movement with a burst of energy and force may tire you out quickly and lead to strain. As a result, you may lack the strength to position yourself correctly-just when you need it most.

This may be a stretch (no pun intended!), but as you plan for the year ahead, starting with an “easy effort” first may be a good idea.

It’s certainly not unusual to set a few goals or make a few resolutions at this time of year. Perhaps you feel ready to take on a new and risky assignment at work. Or, you may be determined to finally understand how the finances work in your family’s business. Perhaps you’re thinking about having a baby and planning for changes in both your work and family life.

Whatever your goals or resolutions or hopes for 2014, take a page from the Pilates playbook: go easy on yourself at the start. Whether you’re determined to learn a new skill or try out a new role or make a difficult decision, don’t strain. Take the time you need to prepare yourself, and build your strength over time.

And, as Meghan always reminds us, “breathe deeply”.

I hope you and your family and your business enjoy a wonderful New Year!

What mantra keeps YOU going when you’re trying to reach a goal?

Follow the Money

moneyIf you’re going to work in your family business, “follow the money”.

I’m not talking about putting more resources toward a service or product that seems to be taking off.  I’m sure you know that’s likely to be a good bet. I’m talking about making sure you know where all the money goes.

Have you seen the movie Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon?

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just say this:  You might be surprised by where the money in the business is going.  In fact, too much of it may even be going to some of your closest relatives… (okay, I’ll stop there-I’ll just say that if you are a daughter in your family’s business, this is a movie for you).

No one likes surprises, particularly where money is concerned.

But some of you may feel that “the business will take care of you”. As a result, you may be paying less attention to money and finances than you should.

This is, as you know, the age of “transparency”.  Many organizations are sharing financial information, encouraging employees to understand how their work directly affects the bottom line….and sharing the rewards.

Family businesses, particularly those with a long history, may find the transition to making finances more transparent both challenging and risky.  You may not be at a point right now where you can or want to influence that approach, but you can certainly try to find out as much as you can about “where the money goes”.

So here are some of the basics:

Get a Check

If you don’t already get a paycheck (and some daughters don’t), ask for one-a real one that looks like the paychecks other employees get. Know where your own money is going…before you spend it.

CHECK the Check

Look at all the categories on the paycheck and learn what they mean. Note the hours, the tax withheld, any deductions for savings or insurance, etc. If it doesn’t make sense for you to get a paycheck now, ask your business accountant to show you a sample. At some point an employee may ask you to explain her paycheck and you’ll want to be prepared.

Check the Terms

There are times when family members may ask for loans from the business. You may too – to continue your education, to help with a mortgage, or other purposes. Be sure you understand the terms of the loans, yours and others’.

One challenge for family businesses is dealing with the conflict that simmers (or explodes) when family members borrow from the business but don’t honor their commitments. Set a good example.

Trust, but Verify

That adage, from a Russian proverb, makes a great deal of sense. It’s vital to trust your family. I’m not suggesting that you go around like a detective, checking every detail and looking for something suspicious.  But it is important to trust your instincts, and speak up if you’re concerned about certain accounts or payments that don’t make sense to you.

You may feel that asking questions about where the money goes in your family’s business is off limits. Or, that you’re stepping on a landmine. But asking those questions is a perfectly legitimate part of being “in charge” of yourself, whether you’re an employee, a rising leader, or an owner.