Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inventions For The Family Business

The electric light bulb transformed civilization. And if some family business owners had the chance to release their inner Thomas Edison, they’d come up with their own bright ideas to make managing a family firm a lot easier.

Joe Stone of Systems & Methods Inc. in Carrolton, Ga., would like to have consultations on demand with his father, Bob, who founded the company in the family’s living room in 1971 and retired in 2003.

“I’d like to have a talking portrait of him on the wall,” says Joe, now the CEO of Systems & Methods, which handles data processing for government offices in several states. “A lot of our company culture is built around what he stood for -- and what he still stands for.”
Today, the third generation is beginning to take its place at Stone’s company.
“We have everything from in-laws to outlaws to ex-laws,” he says.
He says he’d like to leave the next generation a time capsule containing a message that his father passed on to him:
“Keep an open mind and a broad sense of humor. You’ve got to approach every day just like that.”
Chris Combe, president and CEO of Combe Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., likes the idea of another kind of capsule -- one that might be swallowed.
“I love the energy and fun of creative meetings,” he says. “How about a capsule that keeps innovation at top of mind 24/7?”
Combe’s company was founded by his father, Ivan, whose innovative personal-care ideas spawned Just For Men hair color, Odor-Eaters, Lanacane skin-care products and Cepacol oral-care remedies.

In addition, Combe says,
“Please invent the genie that will grant each of our 621 worldwide employees passion for his or her work every day!”
L.R. Gardner, who works for his father running their chain of 22 Crackerbox Convenience Stores in Arkansas, would appreciate a father-son communications device.
“I got promoted once and didn’t know about it until I got new business cards,” he relates cheerfully. “They said I was vice president. I wondered if that would show up on my paycheck, but it didn’t. At least I got new business cards.”
Having a management position in the family business means multi-tasking, according to Gardner, which would make a dial-up “how-to” database nice to have.
“I found out I’m the IT director here,” he says. “How did I find that out? If something breaks and everybody screams at you to come fix it, you’re the IT director. I’ve got about 17 hats and one salary.”
Speaking of salary, Gardner says,
“If my father were talking about my salary, he’d have some illustrations and maybe a pie chart.”
He figures his father doesn’t need any inventions to explain it any more clearly than that.

This article originally appeared in Family Business Magazine

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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