"Sibling revelry" may be the new "sibling rivalry."
"Sibling revelry" may be the new "sibling rivalry."
Not every set of siblings is cut out to run a business together, but the ones that do it well have a few things in common.
First and foremost is having a deep level of trust in one another. That sentiment was nearly universal among the sibling business owners contacted by Columbus CEO.
"There is an extremely high trust level that allows us to have confidence that the decisions being made are for the betterment of the company," says Dan Overmyer, a principal with his brother, Greg Overmyer, and Brian Hall at Overmyer Hall Associates, an insurance agency in Columbus.
Siblings also say they make their business and family relationships work with open and honest communication. And it seems to help to have a sense of humor and the ability to separate business and family when the circumstances call for it.
Here is a sampling of sibling-run companies in central Ohio and a look at how brothers and sisters function as business partners.Binary Business
The Dupler twins have built a business based on family connection.
Talk with identical twins Randy and Brandon Dupler at some length, and they're likely to start finishing each other's sentences. Take for example, the question of whether they would do it over again when deciding to launch Dupler Office, their Columbus-based office furniture dealership, 10 years ago.
"Absolutely," they say in unison, with Brandon quickly adding: "We've never looked back a single day. We're always looking for the next thing."
The brothers say they have led parallel lives, growing up in the Galena area, majoring in business at Ohio State University and embarking on careers in the office furniture business. They even became fathers for the first time 13 years ago when their oldest children were born in the same year.
That was also when Brandon and Randy began getting serious about becoming business partners.
"We sat down with our wives," Randy says, "and talked about how we had always dreamed about owning a business. We spent two and a half years discussing and researching what that might look like. It eventually led us to opening this dealership."
Today, Dupler Office has a 7,000-square-foot showroom and design center off W. Spring Street in the Arena District. The company, which has 43 employees, provides work-space furnishings for central Ohio businesses as well as healthcare and educational facilities. Dupler Office also has national accounts with some central Ohio-based companies in which it installs furniture at their locations across the country.
The Dupler brothers attribute much of their business success to their communication skills and trust of each other.
"We're pretty candid and open," Brandon says. "We're also straightforward about everything we do in running the business…If we have organizational challenges, we'll go to dinner or have a meeting to talk through it and come to a resolution."
Adds Randy: "Being twins, the trust we have in each other is much deeper than what normal business partners might have…(and) in addition to finishing each other's sentences, we probably finish each other thoughts even more often. We're pretty much on the same page."
But the twins also point out they have different personalities and strengths that are reflected in their areas of focus at Dupler Office. Randy takes a general management role while Brandon concentrates on business development and customer relationships.
"It's been a good fit for us to lead our team in those categories," Brandon says. "What Randy enjoys doing and I enjoy doing luckily are not the same things."
Brandon's wife, Carrie, is the company's chief financial officer. In addition, several non-family members hold leadership roles in what Randy describes as a "rigorous" operating format based on clearly defined roles and expectations.
The brothers say they feel good about how they've been able to weave their business partnership into their family life.
"Our family time is important, fun and we have a lot of it," Brandon says. "We even travel together with our families. It all meshes and is part of our lives."Sister Act
For the Dager sisters, trust and family values inform their fourth-generation leadership.
Luconda and Joanne Dager run the Velvet Ice Cream Co. these days, but the sisters certainly didn't start at the top of the business owned by their family since 1914.
The two recall getting their start at Velvet as teens, washing dishes and busing tables in the ice cream parlor at the company's iconic Ye Olde Mill in Utica. Then they got to dip ice cream for customers and later were promoted to servers in the restaurant.
"To be a server was a big deal for us," Luconda says. "We grew up at Ye Olde Mill."
Today, Luconda, 46, serves as president and Joanne, 43, as vice president of a company in its fourth generation of family ownership. That's an increasingly rare feat, says Luconda, citing research that found only three percent of family businesses run four generations deep.
Velvet makes its ice cream in a plant next to Ye Olde Mill, selling it to grocery and convenience stores in four states and restaurant chains with locations in 25 states. The company employs 125 and continues to grow as evidenced by its $3-million investment in a 22,000-square-foot freezer and warehouse facility now under construction on the Velvet campus.
The Dager sisters say the importance of their family's legacy at Velvet was taught to them at an early age by their parents, Joe and Tatla Dager. Joe continues to serve as Velvet's chairman after running the business with his brother, Mike, now retired, for many years.
"Our dad never pressured us to go into the business," Joanne says. "We were always encouraged to do what interested us."
In fact, their father's list of rules included them going to college and working at least three or four years outside the company. Luconda worked as a buyer for a women's clothing store in Cincinnati before returning to Velvet in 1994. Joanne worked in radio and food sales before coming back to Velvet a dozen years ago.
Their other two sisters, Andre and Suzanne, have chosen other paths. Andre is co-owner of a restaurant in Newark, while Suzanne is a stay-at-home mother.
"We keep them abreast and talk business all the time, even on the weekends," Luconda says. "Everyone always says, 'You need to find some separation and unplug,' but that's almost impossible in a family business. I don't see how you can separate the two on a day-to-day basis."
She and Joanne say their relationship as business partners and sisters works because it's based on trust and communication.
"I trust Joanne with my life and know she has the company's best interests at heart," Luconda says. "We were raised in a family where 'do the right thing' was the motto…and that it's family first. We bring that philosophy to work, too."
Adds Joanne: "Trust is definitely the biggest thing for us. We know how each other thinks. I know that if Luconda isn't here, I can answer a question on her behalf and she's going to support me. It's been easy to work together."
The sisters also feel their personalities provide balance to their relationship.
"We don't fight because Joanne is very understanding," Luconda says with a smile. "I'm very strong-minded and she's more patient than I am. Joanne also has a good sense of humor. It works for us."Successful Flock
Since their youth, the Lackey siblings have made the most of working together.
As usual, the four Lackey siblings were having a few laughs as they walked through a parking lot on their way to a meeting on family-owned businesses. Joking around is what they do in each other's company-along with owning and operating the aptly named Happy Chicken Farms and Merry Milk Maid businesses in the Urbancrest Industrial Park on the edge of Grove City.
Their levity caught the attention of another person walking into the event.
"He came up to us and said, 'I can't believe you guys own a family business and are having such a good time outside of work,'" says Leo Lackey. "That's just the way we are. We get along at (the office) and everywhere we go."
Brothers Leo, Bruce and Mark Lackey and their sister, Christine "Merry" Draghi, say it's an example set by their parents, Lee and Marjorie Lackey, who founded the business in 1953.
Today, Happy Chicken Farms and Merry Milk Maid is a wholesale distribution company that provides eggs, dairy products, ice cream and other frozen food items to restaurants, independent grocers, bakeries, convenience stories, health-care facilities, schools and more. The Lackeys are also partners in marketing and buyer co-ops for egg producers in 10 states.
"Our parents did a pretty good job raising us and preparing us for this situation," says Mark Lackey, company president. "They were intelligent enough to have the vision for the business and see where it was going."
He and his siblings started pitching in at the business as soon as they could tie their shoes. They also remember a few times when they were called home from high school to help their parents with a rush order.
"We were so tremendously blessed with our parents, what they instilled in us and how well all of us get along," says Bruce Lackey, company CEO. "I wouldn't have things any other way. Every day is like a family reunion."
But there's also a need to dial down the shop talk at family functions, and Bruce says he, Leo, Mark and Christine try to be sensitive to that. They have a brother, David, and a sister, Tricia, who are not involved in the family business.
"We try not to get too immersed in business topics while we're gathered as a family," Bruce says. It's not that hard to navigate."
Part of that seems to go back to keeping things light at the office, including the brothers joking with older sister Christine, who serves as the company's director of customer relations.
"I treated them pretty rough when they were little," she says with a chuckle, "so I don't mind their jabbing. I probably deserve it."
In a more serious vein, Christine says the best part of being in business with her brothers is the deep trust she has in them.
"To me," she says, "it's worry-free about what my future is going to be here. I have this very content and secure feeling."
Mark Lackey agrees. "We've known each other so long," he says, "that we know when we'll make a left turn or go right. We know our tendencies-the good things, the bad things, the hot buttons and when to duck…I also know there's unconditional love and they have my back."
Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.