Speakers: Planning eases transition of family businesses

By Jodi Weigand, TRIBUNE-REVIEW Thursday, October 29, 2009   Jobe Funeral Home in…

Georgia (Oct 29, 2009)

Thursday, October 29, 2009
Jobe Funeral Home in Monroeville is 114 years old, the product of cooperation and careful planning between generations.
Establishing a succession plan like the one it has can be key to whether family businesses continue to thrive after changing hands, experts say. But many times that's not a priority.
"There are a lot of times when it's survival on a day-to-day basis," said attorney Bill Otto, with Sebring and Associates in Monroeville. "Sometimes, you run into it and you say, 'How can people who are so intelligent be so unprepared?' But it happens so often that you stop being surprised."
Otto was among speakers at a recent Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce seminar where owners of family businesses learned the importance of establishing a succession plan and ensuring the next generation is capable of managing things.
"Some people know there are things they have to do but aren't sure what they are," said Greg Brunnhuber, who owns a human resources consulting firm in Monroeville.
Family businesses account for about 25 percent of the Monroeville chamber's membership, said executive director Chad Amond. There are at least 2,000 in Pittsburgh, according to the University of Pittsburgh's Small Business Development Center. The Small Business Administration says an estimated 90 percent of U.S. businesses are family-owned or controlled.
Two of the main points in succession planning are tax avoidance and ownership transfer, but those things won't ensure continued success, said Joseph Astrachan, executive director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
Family businesses, he said, should hold family meetings at least once a year, do continuous strategic planning, and have a board of directors composed of people who feel free to speak their minds.
"The days of waiting until the day they die to inherit it are over," said James Jobe, 35, of Monroeville, who co-owns Jobe Funeral Home with his parents.
"In my family there was a succession plan in place. Has that drastically changed from 1944 when my great-great-grandfather transferred it to my grandfather? Absolutely."
Sometimes children have difficulty deciding whether to enter the family business.
Lisa Petrocelli-Tanner, 29, had little intention of working for her dad when she left for college to earn her accounting degree. She was going to work for another firm, she said.
"I had an internship in college and I called my dad and said, 'I don't think I like this,'" she said. So she went to work with the rest of her family on a trial basis.
"It was the best thing I ever did," she said.
The close-knit Petrocelli family is well-versed in its plan for how and when Michael, 24, and Lisa will take over Petrocelli & Company, an accounting and tax services firm in Monroeville.
Their parents, Marcy and Tony Petrocelli, transfer a percentage of the business over to them every year or two. It's important that the kids know the business before they're the sole owners, said Tony Petrocelli.
"In 10 years we should be able to handle everything without (our dad)," Michael Petrocelli said.
Having both children join the accounting practice changed the future of the business, Tony Petrocelli said, so succession planning became even more important as the business began to grow.
In 2004, Petrocelli and Company moved from a small office in Pitcairn to a larger building on Monroeville Boulevard, where nine people, including family members, work.
That includes Lisa Petrocelli-Tanner's husband, Kevin. The couple's young daughter could be the next addition to the business.
"As soon as my daughter was born," she said, "I thought, 'It would be odd if she went into something else.'"


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