Finding the Right Balance in a Family Business
Jared Kaufman, the “next generation” at P.N. Alarm, shares his thoughts on the challenges of working with family.
I’m always looking to expand my audience, and change the approach to my interviews. Hopefully, this column will do both. Typically, I like to interview owners or senior managers of alarm companies that are well recognized in their communities. I could always count on being able to talk to an owner or a senior executive speaking for the company, but this time I was thrown for a loop. I called Steve Kaufman, an old friend of mine, to chat about what it’s like to work in the family business with a son who was essentially running the business. The company, P.N. Alarm in Monticello and Middletown, N.Y., has been around since I joined the industry some 50 years ago.
I’ve known Kaufman for almost as long, and this time, I was going to ask for his “great idea” for working in a company with a family member. Sitting in his office was his son Jared, who was listening into the conversation (with my OK) and before I could get the next word out, Steve put Jared on the phone and introduced him as the person I should really talk to. Jared Kaufman is 44, married, and really an all-around good guy, just like his father. I asked what his great idea might be, and instead of the usual response there was silence for a moment, and then he said, “Ron, if you don’t mind, I really want to give this question some thought, and I’ll call you back in just a little while with my answer.”
And he did. Before I could say more than “Hello,” Jared told me that I had an email in my inbox and to look at that for the answer. I had told him that this column usually doesn’t respond to emails, I decided I’d be doing a great disservice to Jared and what he had to say if I didn’t print his answer. So, below is Jared’s letter to me. If you work with any relatives, good friends, or just people you respect, Jared’s advice (lightly edited) basically says it all:
“One of the most challenging parts of owning a family business is being able to separate work from home life. For me, it’s my mother, father, sister, niece and cousin. I’ve seen too many families break up because they lose sight that family is more important than work, especially when money is involved. Although often work seems like it takes precedent at the time, family is everything and should always come first, and business should come second.
“Sometimes it can be hard to separate what happens at work to after hours. I’ll have disagreements with my mother or father in the office, and then have to get together with them for a family birthday party later that day, and have to separate the two.
“At the same time working in the family business is also very rewarding because you get to spend the extra quality time with them; when you don’t work with your family, you can spend more time with coworkers than with your actual family after work hours.”
Remembering back to my first job after college, I joined my father in a family business. It worked for a short time, but then I started to notice we were disagreeing, even arguing, over business decisions that my father was making. I won’t bore you with the details, but after six months, I felt it just wasn’t working, and I had to leave. Looking back, I probably did everything wrong and both my father and I agreed that it was time for me to leave the firm. I did and went on to enjoy a fairly rewarding and successful career in the security industry.
So when I took on the subject of family members being in the business with the founder, I remembered that Jared was the third family member to have joined the company, in a management role. His father, Steve, was the second, and his grandfather Norman, who is still living an active life, was the founder and first president. I have seen Steve and Jared together, and the interaction between them was as typical and loving as any relationship could be. Having the next generation of leadership share thoughts on the industry is one of my great rewards for doing what I do.
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