On the rocky shoals of business-family relationships

David J. Bean (left), president of MCS Records & Reporting, discusses his children's roles in his business with author Franco Lombardo.
David J. Bean (left), president of MCS Records & Reporting, discusses his children's roles in his business with author Franco Lombardo. (JANE M. VON BERGEN / Staff)
Posted: October 26, 2013

Fueled by coffee and bagels, the breakfast business session at St. Joe's could have been moderated by Dr. Phil - so full it was of emotion and longing.

There was David J. Bean, 62, president of MCS Records & Reporting, wondering if his three adult children really want to take over the document business he had built from age 28.

Had he, inadvertently, so sheltered them from life's harsh realities that they weren't prepared?

There was Kayla O'Donnell, in her late 20s or early 30s, now working in her parents' telephone services company, hoping that her siblings and parents could figure out how to navigate the tricky shoals of business-family relationships.

"It's very comforting to know when you experience challenges and difficulties that our family has experienced that we are not alone," O'Donnell said.

Leading the discussion at the Institute for Family Business & Entrepreneurship at St. Joseph's University on Thursday was Franco Lombardo, a financial adviser for wealthy clients and the author of The Great White Elephant, Why Rich Kids Hate Their Parents.

Lombardo began the session in a confessional mode, talking about his own insecurities - how his father beat him with a belt and how, despite that, he yearned for his father's approval. That yearning drove his ambition.

As he spoke, business owners and counselors in the room nodded - he was striking a chord.

Lombardo's story resonated with Bean, who grew up in a family-run funeral business.

Bean's father, Bean said in an interview, made him pay for his own schooling at St. Joe's Prep and at St. Joe's University.

In the business, Bean said, his father criticized everything - how Bean embalmed the bodies, how he arranged the flowers. Yet, despite his father's harshness, Bean sought his approval.

A side job copying documents turned into a business when he and a partner joined forces at age 28. Bean quit the funeral business and built MCS. Based in Center City, it now has, he said, 500 employees - three of whom are his adult children.

"How you treat your money is how you treat people," Lombardo told the group. Each person has a feeling, and a belief about money, which translates into actions.

Those patterns play out over the generations and are often destructive in family businesses, he said.

In Bean's case, the action was to put his shoulder to the grindstone - because the only way to satisfy his father was to make his own way.

Bean said he never wanted his children to feel the way he did. But these days, it's not quite so clear. Now, he wishes they'd work harder. "You'd like to think your children share your work ethic," he said.

One counselor told him that his children - now in their 20s and 30s - yearn for his approval.

Did his feelings about his father, entwined with his feelings about money, set up expectations that would cause him never to be satisfied with his children? Could be, Bean said.

"I have to invest more time with my family," he said. "I'm getting older and I want to see them more productive."

O'Donnell came away from Thursday's session more determined than ever to push her family to hire a counselor. When she brought it up at her company, STC Services in Allentown, it was turned down, at least for 2013.

"There's a lot of unresolved conflict," she said.


Three reasons why rich kids hate their folks:

Parents don't say no enough.

Fathers, in particular, use money to assuage their guilt for not spending time.

Parents don't help their children deal with wealthism - prejudice against

the rich.

SOURCE: Author Franco Lombardo





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