VIEWPOINT;MOM KNEW: TREAT STAFF LIKE FAMILY

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Kathryn McIntyre, publisher of Business Insurance, loves to tell this story about my mother, who is retiring from active duty after serving a 40-year hitch with our company: Mom was speaking at one of our yearly editors' meetings, and Dan Miller, then editor of Crain's Chicago Business, asked her, in that serious way of his, what were two of the most crucial problems facing our company. After turning the question over for a moment, Mom smiled and replied: "Rance and Keith!"

She brought down the house.

That was Mom's way of saying that we were all taking ourselves a little too seriously. Extremely self-effacing herself, she does her best to keep my brother Keith and me from getting too big for our britches. And, as Kathryn says, Mom is always gracious to everyone, no matter what their status. When Kathryn brought her Dad around one day, they ran into Mom, and she invited them into her office and talked about Business Insurance and Kathryn's job for a half hour. Her Dad left beaming.

As Keith and I said in a memo to employees announcing Mom had been named to the honorary title of chairman emeritus, "Mom, in characteristic modesty, considers herself a keeper of the flame...We have all felt her support, her love, her sense of family and of comfort."

It's fair to say that Keith and I will have a tough road to hoe without Mom's calming presence. Ron Alridge, publisher of Electronic Media, puts it this way: "The truth is, your mother always made everyone feel at ease, always made us feel as if we belong and matter and are appreciated. There aren't many like that...and replacing her, with no disrespect to you two guys, will simply be impossible."

I agree, but that doesn't mean we can't try. The other week my daughter Cindi and I attended a meeting of the Family Business Council of Greater New York, and I had the opportunity to say a few words about our mission should we choose to accept it. "Our companies, I deeply believe, are one of the last bastions of caring and humanity in a world where companies only seem to care about the next deal, where employees are bought and sold with the rest of the merchandise."

Jack Stack, president and CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing Co., said in his column in Inc. the current corporate attitude of taking employee downsizing for granted is "nuts. It's corporate insanity. And it's wrong."

Most family businesses always have known that this callous approach is wrong. We have a special relationship with our employees because they are an extension of our family (warts and all). They sign on with us knowing that a family member will most likely always run the joint and knowing their loyalty counts for a lot. And there's new evidence that all the layoffs that have so disrupted our workplace haven't done much to increase productivity.

I was thinking of my Mom, and her retirement, when I said to the family business people: "Maybe it's time that treating employees like family be given a try by all companies. Maybe our time has come."

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