Even in the best of times, "first generation starts it, second generation builds it, and the third generation usually fritters it away," says prominent local businessman Harry Cooper. He and his brother Jack are the third-generation owners of Harry Cooper Supply. Obviously they mean to be a distinct exception to that rule!
Family businesses always are prone to tensions. The difficult and even painful decisions necessitated by hard economic times focus and aggravate these tensions. Conflicts that could be pushed to the background when the coffers were flush are now front and center. And as one family business member commented: "It's a meeting place where we form our identities and the stories that carry us through life." Downsizing Cousin Dave is not a story anybody wants to carry through life.
As the New York Times insightfully puts it: "Recessions, like bullies, always pick on the weak." But financial weakness does necessarily translate into or devolve from weakness of character. As the patriarch of one family business says: "We've established ourselves as people of integrity. That integrity would be shot to hell if we said, "O.K., it's bankruptcy. Goodbye."
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