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Discussing the Dynamics of Working with Dad

Daughter Entrepreneurs Share Stories about Running the Family Business

Posted in: Feliciano Center News

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Lisa Hirsh has similar personality, posture and mannerisms as her father, Charles Hirsh. But she was in the dark about her father’s habit of cursing until her husband, who also works at Accurate Box in Paterson, commented about it.

When sharing an office in the family business, fathers will share all decisions with their daughters, but still act the patriarch by, say, not cursing in front of their not-so-little girl.

The Hirshs and two other pairs of fathers and daughters shared the rewards and challenges of working together during the Fathers/Daughters Family Business event on June 11 at the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University. The event was sponsored by Sobel & Co. and Greenbaum Rowe Smith & Davis LLP.

“The best part of it is learning who your parents are. They’re not just Mommy and Daddy,” said Courtney Villani, whose mother Linda also works at Villani Bus Company in Linden.

The three women on the panel now run the day-to-day operations of the companies, but that wasn’t always what the fathers—or daughters—had envisioned.

At Accurate Box in Paterson, Charles Hirsh always expected his only son—the oldest of three children—would take over the business. But when the son decided he’d rather be a journalist, Lisa Hirsh discovered she wanted to make a career at the company and the father realized his daughter was the right person to take over someday. When Charles Hirsh eventually talked to his daughter about elevating her to the top spot, she first said she wanted to stay a vice president. But the father convinced Lisa Hirsh that it was important for staff and customers to see a succession plan was in place.

Another panelist, Jodi Solotoff of PIP Printing in Livingston, said she had never considered entering the family business until she overheard her father talking about selling the operation and something clicked inside her, telling her she should be the next owner.

“Jodi came in with the patience I had completely lost for being in the business,” said her father, Steve Solotoff, 69.

Courtney Villani was a firefighter for 10 years before turning to the family business as her career.

The panelist pairs’ personalities, and dynamics with each other, were evident as they talked. Jodi Solotoff said she and her father have a lot of disagreements about the business, because they have similar Type A personalities, and the pair was often making needling but loving jokes at each other. Lisa Hirsh said, “There’s not a major decision I make without talking to him about it,” and each Hirsh often seemed charmed with the other as they told stories. Dee Villani, 86, was the quietest of the six panelists, with daughter Courtney gently drawing her father into the conversation. “He’s always allowed me to voice my opinion,” said Courtney, noting that’s not always a given with a first-generation Italian man of her father’s era.

What do the daughters call their fathers at the office? The Solotoffs address each other at work with first names, and Courtney Villani calls her father by his initials D.V. But it’s a different story at Accurate Box.

“I treasure the fact she calls me dad,” said Charles Hirsh, 84, noting his son-in-law will also address him with the familial term at work.

Lisa and Charles Hirsh also share an office, with their desks facing each other. There is only one office for Courtney and Dee Villani. “I just took a little corner of it,” she said.

Even outside the office, it’s impossible not to talk about work with her father, said Lisa Hirsh. “We just gravitate to it,” said Hirsh, whose children have dubbed the conversations “Accutalk.” But she does try to limit work talk at home with her husband, Mark Schlossman, who runs the sales side of Accurate Box. Charles Hirsh said Schlossman will sometimes ask him where Lisa is—something that makes the father happy because it means his daughter is limiting work talk with her husband.

The Solotoffs, on the other hand, like being able to talk about the business outside the office. Jodi Solotoff said work talk in a social setting can create a calm environment. “It’s like having a meeting without calling a meeting,” she said.

The panelists also told anecdotes about things that seem to happen only in a family business. Courtney Villani talked about how her father and his siblings had to walk to school every day, as Villani school buses passed by. One winter day, young Dee Villani came upon a company bus that was stopped because the gas line had frozen. He crawled under the bus, put his hands on the gas line to warm it up, got the bus started and drove it back to the Villani’s company garage. His father then agreed to drive him to school, the only day he ever got a ride.

The entrepreneurs had advice for young people who want to own a business someday. Charles and Lisa Hirsh plus Steve Solotoff recommended working outside the family business first, saying it provides different experience that is valuable and shows other staff you have worked somewhere else.

Steve Solotoff also talked about persistence: “When someone says ‘no,’ you didn’t hear ‘no.’ You heard ‘I’ll see you next week.’” Jodi Solotoff advised assessing your core values and evaluating the profession you want to enter, and making sure both align. Courtney Villani gave the advice they tell their drivers, which can apply to anything in life: “Don’t start a turn you can’t complete.”

The crowd of 60 included at least five pairs of fathers/daughters in the audience too. Reaction about the event was positive on the Feliciano Center’s Meetup event page.

“Wonderful event tonight! I don’t think the panelists could have possibly been any more likeable,” wrote Todd Nakamura.

Dom Celentano enjoyed hearing from owners of businesses in different industries and of different sizes. “Many times we hear and read about problematic family businesses and it was refreshing to see how the founders embraced the next generation of successors as well as the change in their business model,” Celentano wrote.

To learn more about the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship’s free events, sign up for the Montclair Entrepreneurs Meetup.

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