Fred Sharp moved from the Iowa farm he had inherited to Florida his wife, Alice, and their four children in 1940. He planned to become the largest citrus producer in Florida… and that’s exactly what happened.
It was a great time to purchase land in Florida, and Fred had received a great price for his Iowa farm. After researching the culture of growing oranges, he bought as much land as he could afford and proceeded to plant it all in orange groves. Twenty-five years passed and Sharp Enterprises grew extensively, for Fred had purchased every piece of farmland that came up for sale in the county.
Fred had an intense work ethic, which he passed along to his children, and one by one they all came into the business. The children were well-educated and prepared to take responsible positions in the business. Paul was the eldest and he loved growing things. Over the years, he became a Master Grower of citrus fruit. Helen, the second eldest, was a mathematical wiz; she loved figures and easily gravitated to keeping the business accounts. It was no surprise when she went for a degree in accounting and business. She convinced her father that it would be best if she worked outside of the family business for a number of years to get broader experience. Elaine was third born of the four children and her focus was on the processing of the fruit and on marketing. Dan, the youngest, saw potential in taking the fruit that was produced and creating added value by converting it into jam, marmalade and other products. He extracted oil from the peel of oranges and lemons and created soaps and a comprehensive line of citrus-scented cosmetic products.
Over time, Fred formed three distinct divisions that were separate but intertwined companies, all owned by the holding company. He maintained regular contact with all of his children and helped them fine-tune each of the operations. In the meantime, Helen had been recognized as a real business leader, a force with whom to be reckoned. She gained valuable experience, including becoming Chief Financial Officer of the firm where she worked. Even though she worked elsewhere, she stayed in close communication with her father, with whom she always discussed the finances of the holding company.
Fred was very proud of what he had created, but after more than 40 years in the citrus business, he was a bit weary. He had the idea that Helen could become the chairman of the holding company and oversee the three operating units. Fred and Helen had the same mindset: “Watch the money!”
With watching the family money in mind, Fred convinced Helen to take the position as chairman. Little did Fred realize that this appointment was going to be a problem for Paul and Elaine. They both felt that they were operating their business unit and they were in charge. They bristled at the notion that Helen was going to be chairman, looking over their shoulders and watching how they spent the money. After all, they were autonomous and in charge! It seems that Paul and Elaine forgot the fact that neither of them directly owned shares in the business unit they operated and that their own financial futures were intertwined with those of their siblings.
In her new chairman position, Helen added outside businesspersons to the holding company Board of Directors. She began to operate as she knew best from her strong base of experience outside of the company. She followed International Best Practices for Family Business, which delineates clear responsibility for positions and accountability for outcomes, all measured by performance compared to pre-approved budgets and more.
It was not long before both Paul and Elaine began to exhibit passive-aggressive behavior toward Helen. They refused to have the budgets for their divisions reviewed by the Holding Board. They made material financial commitments without advance approval of the Holding Board. They refused to show up for family events if Helen and her family were going to be present.
Paul and Elaine spoke directly with members of the Holding Board, co-opting Helen and attempting to neutralize her efforts to function in a professional manner. When the efforts to influence Holding Board members did not produce the results they sought, they lobbied Fred and their mother, Alice. It was a mess, both from a business operations point of view and for the family.
Be sure to look for my next post to find out what happened next!
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