Boston Herald Article: Teaching their children well

boston_herald
Business & Markets

Jennifer Heldt Powell

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathers pass on more than merchandise, customers

When John DiNatale was young, his private detective father, Phil, told him plenty about how to do the job right.

Like, when you’re watching someone, move just your eyes, not your head. And, when you are trailing someone, stay on the right side in their blind spot. But the biggest lesson was more subtle.

“It’s all about knowing people,” said John DiNatale, who now runs the agency with his brother, Richard. “If you know people, then you can get the information you need.”

When fathers pass along their businesses to their children, they give them much more than a store, a stack of merchandise and a customer list. They give them lessons in doing business that can’t be taught in a classroom or gleaned from a textbook. The children who grow up in their parents’ business often develop a knack for it almost through osmosis.

Empire Loan founder Michael Goldstein’s first lesson at his father’s South Bronx pawn shop was how to wield a broom. He was great at sweeping by the time he started learning how to keep the ledger. His most important lesson wasn’t about the pawn business, however.

“What I really learned is a work ethic and a respect for the customer and the people you deal with on a daily basis,” said Goldstein, who now has five pawn shops and is opening another in Lowell.

Eleanor Greene’s father, Blarney Stone founder Michael Conlon, tried to teach her to stay out of the restaurant business, but that she didn’t learn. Although she spent 20 years in a television newsroom, she ended up at the Eat Drink Laugh Restaurant Group, which owns West on Centre in West Roxbury and three other eateries. She learned more than she realized growing up.

“Sometimes, it’s not what they say, it’s what they do,” Greene said about her dad. “I watched him handle different situations and now when I’m in those situations, I remember what he used to do.”

Michelle Barsamian, who works with her father, Mike Barsamian, at the Belgrade Group said she learned most from what her dad didn’t do. As she moved up through management and turned to him with important decisions, he told her to figure it out.

“He wanted me to take a risk and make a decision,” she said. “I’ve learned from my mistakes.”

Ronald Diep learned how to sell at his parents shop, Winnie Fashion Inc., in Hawaii.

“My dad taught me how to initiate conversations with customers, how to help them and how to analyze their actions to see whether they are going to buy and what they might be interested in,” Diep said.

Now living in the Bay State to attend Babson College, he’s translating those lessons to the virtual world as he runs swrvhawaiianshirts.com, an online version of the shop. Though he can’t see the customers, he still watches the analytics to see what they’re interested in and what they’re buying. He’s also found that good merchandising and being helpful are just as important online as in the store.

Tom Deans, author of “Every Family’s Business,” said he learned plenty about how to run a business from his dad, but the best lesson, and the one he tries to pass on, is the importance of the children investing their own money in the company.

“He taught us that in order to be the owner of a business, you have to risk your capital,” Deans said. “Businesses have a shelf life and when kids are asked to buy their businesses, it forces them to focus on that fact.”

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