The Power behind the throne


This column is supposed to be about family business. Periodically, I write when the spirit moves me to talk about issues, challenges and hopes to inspire those of you in a business passed down through the ages.

Since this article appears in BizTimes Milwaukee, suffice it to say the editors and publisher want me to discuss business-related topics. On most occasions I try to adhere to their wishes. After all, they are the ones who choose whether to publish what you read or not, so most of the time pleasing them gets me in front of you.

I started writing this column five years ago shortly after I walked away from the job I dreamed of my entire life. Writing proved to be very cathartic and allowed me to express, albeit to a limited audience in my first book, some of the reasons for my resignation. The writing continued and I found that some of you actually enjoy what I write. To date, the most talked about article I have written was the one on my family’s summer home.

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Until perhaps today.

Just prior to Thanksgiving, I received the call from my father that everyone wants to avoid. “It’s your mom. We got a problem. Meet us at Froedtert.”

As the only son in this family, I dutifully and willingly complied. The next six days were full of tests and waiting, tests and waiting. Did I mention waiting?

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The results? Cancer of the thyroid, lungs, liver and three other places I won’t go into. The matriarch is ill – gravely ill.

For this and forthcoming columns I intend to chronicle the story of the power behind the throne, my mother. You see, without a mother, there can be no family, and without family there can be no family business.

To be transparent, I asked Mom for permission to write this series of articles. Her answer? “Well sure, every family goes through these problems…” To be honest, I hope you grow long tired of my writing them, because that means she is still with us, but the truth be told, I simply don’t know.

For those of you dubious of my intentions to write this series, let me assure you it isn’t for the salary my articles command. But I will admit that these articles are written for selfish motives – to cope with my love and loss of a mother who has been there in good times and bad. She was there to provide me with the words of wisdom during a very personal loss of a love – “If it is meant to be, it is meant to be” – and through the vagaries of business, from loss of a job to the heights of the profession. This series of articles is being written because it allows me an expression of my own grief and one that many of you in business – especially in a family business – can identify with.

Mom was there when I came home from college after meeting with the dean of business who told me my grades in accounting stunk and that I was on probation. She heard me say I didn’t like accounting and simply asked, “Well, what do you like?” I told her I liked marketing, and she said to follow my interest. She also mentioned it might be a good idea not to mention this change to my dad as he encouraged the accounting major due to my propensity for numbers.

Family businesses frequently report to me that while the father is the worker, the maverick, the leader, he takes his cues from the mother, who is the power behind the throne. While the father is often looked upon as the soul of the organization, the soul has a beating heart and that is the mother, whether she works in the family business or not. That is true in my family. Dad controls the checkbook while in her own way, Mom controls the keeper of the checkbook.

And my degree? I graduated with a marketing degree. Shhh! Not sure Dad knows.

I hope you read this series of articles as I can assure you it is from my heart. In a business or not, the fall of our lives leads to winter. “Winter is coming” was the much-repeated line from Game of Thrones. For my family, winter is here. But this is not the vision statement this less-than-spectacular student of business hopes to leave you with … No, the mantra for the moment is a much more uplifting and hopeful “Hug them while you have them” motto.

I plan to do just that this winter.

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