Working with family can seem a nightmare for some.
But for Ira Schwartz, CEO and founder of Free Country, an active outdoor apparel and products company, family is at the core of his business. Schwartz received his introduction to business from his father who owned Fur Vault Inc., a fur coat distributor.
Schwartz’s first job out of college was on the sales floor at one of Fur Vault’s stores. He later moved into the fashion side of the business. After six years of working alongside his father and uncle–who was the company’s executive vice president–Schwartz struck out on his own and started Free Country in 1990.
The lessons he learned from working with his father have informed many of the decisions he’s made as owner and CEO of his own company.
WORK WITH FAMILY MEMBERS WITH SKILLS THAT COMPLEMENT YOURS
Schwartz’s father and uncle had very different responsibilities in their company. While his uncle, Fred Schwartz, ran the sales department and became “Fred the Furrier,” a well-known television personality appearing in advertisements and TV commercials, Schwartz’s father took the lead on the production and supply side of the business. “When people have different competencies you can do more things well,” says Schwartz.
Since starting Free Country, Schwartz has worked alongside his wife, Jodi, who runs the women’s division, while he focuses on the men’s and children’s line. “Having different areas of focus creates the most amount of productivity and results,” Schwartz says.
INVOLVING KIDS IN THE BUSINESS STARTS EARLY
Schwartz recalls his dad taking him to work on Saturdays and school holidays. Although he spent a lot of time at the office, his dad didn’t discuss much about the day-to-day operations of the business at home. That’s something Schwartz has sought to change with his kids. At ages 8, 14, and 16, they’re still too young to work for the business. During dinner at the Schwartz home, the conversation often turns to business; with the kids regularly taking part in focus groups.
“We talk to them all the time about our work,” says Schwartz. “We constantly ask our kids what they think about our advertising, what they think about our brand, what they think about merchandise that we’re planning for the next season,” Although he wouldn’t force them into working for the business, Schwartz says he hopes they will eventually want to become part of Free Country. He says he believes that his kids being kept up-to-date on the company’s operations will make their transition a little more seamless.
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