Yesterday, three different companies owned by brothers talked about what their work dynamics are like with their sibling. Today, they share the advantages and challenges that come with having a brother as a business partner, as well as their advice on going into business with a sibling.
The major advantage that all three landscaping companies mentioned when it comes to working with your sibling is trust.
“Family businesses are tough, but we’ve managed to form a good working relationship,” says Cole Weller, president and CEO of Weller Brothers Landscaping based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “We trust each other. If I’m asking him (Brent) to make a decision, he’s going to make the same decision I would 98 percent of the time. And just to have someone that you trust is very, very important when you’re growing an organization.”
“In our scenario, there’s that level of trust that you have to have,” says Andrew McCurry, COO of Father Nature Landscapes, based in Birmingham, Alabama. “And so, you can trust and you can know the other person has the best interest of the company in mind.”
This level of trust also comes from having shared core values and understanding how the other sibling thinks.
“The biggest advantage for me is knowing who he is and how he is,” says Alex Nickens, owner of Nickens Lawn & Landscape, New Athens, Illinois, about his brother Nick. “I can read him in certain situations. If he’s in a certain mood, I can send him to do certain jobs or I can keep him in the truck going and getting materials. If he’s tired or he’s worn out, I can try to play to that strength and keep him doing something efficient.”
Daniel McCurry says that another benefit of working with his brother is being encouraged to go above and beyond.
“When I call Andrew to give me a ‘don’t worry about that client, just move on’ thing and he tells me to do something that I need to be encouraged to do, which is to go to the next mile, even though it feels like I’m pushing through mud,” he says.
Another element that Daniel mentions is how there’s no easy out option, meaning that no matter what, he has to work things out with his brother.
Yet, Cole says the family dynamic of your business partner being your brother can be a challenge at the same time.
“I think that the more difficult times for us working together were in the early years when the organization wasn’t as big as it is now,” Cole says. “So, of course, just by way of that, we’re working closer together every day. And when you’re working closer together and having more interactions with one another, then you’ve got more opportunity for disagreements.”
For Alex, this means that when there are disagreements, he and his brother can end up saying things they don’t really mean and would never say to each other if they were normal employees.
“Us being siblings and us knowing each other and all the fights we’ve been in since we were kids, we know that even if we get in a fight and one of us says something that we don’t mean, it’s still going to be all right,” Alex says. “But at the time, it can be challenging trying to get along after one of those bickering fights.”
The McCurrys say their major challenge is staying out of each other’s lane.
Advice for others
For those landscapers considering going into business with a sibling, Cole suggests they do some research on the statistics of family businesses.
“I think that it’s got to be the right person,” he says. “And whether or not it’s a sibling doesn’t matter. Certainly, that adds a layer of complexity in there, the family element to it, but the fact of the matter is it can work if you complement one another.”
Daniel stresses the importance of keeping your sibling’s best interest at heart and not having a scale measuring each other’s contributions. Andrew adds that having a good partnership agreement written up can also help and to remember you are also going into business with your sibling’s spouse.
“You don’t want your spouse to feel like they’re going to be taken advantage of by the other couple if you were to die,” Andrew says. “And not to be morbid, but I do think it’s important to think about and talk about it. It was pretty soon into us getting the business going that we decided, ‘Hey, this thing’s going to be successful, we need to go ahead and get these key man insurance policies on each other.’”
As for Alex’s advice on sibling-owned businesses, he believes that one sibling should be the majority owner.
“I don’t think that a 50/50 partnership in any business is ever smart,” he says. “That’s just always been my take on it. I think when it comes to business, someone needs to always have the upper hand. I think if you put most brothers together, they would both would know who the better owner would be, most of the time. So, just split it up, make one of them the majority owner. You don’t want to be fighting over decisions that need to be made. Someone’s word needs to be the one that sticks.”