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Keeping business in the family

FAMILY businesses are often by their very nature private affairs. While often rumours surround these businesses, rarely do the real facts come out into the open for all to see. Discussions of problems peculiar to family businesses usually stay within the family or the confines of a Family Business Assoc-iation function.

So it was enlightening to hear of some of the issues faced by Feature Tours CEO Manny Papadoulis and his family oper-ated business.

Mr Papadoulis, who took over control of the tour operation 10 years ago from his parents Michael and Margaret after they had founded the business in 1973 said a family business could either bond the family together or draw them apart because of internal disputes.

Mr Papadoulis should know. Fresh from a dispute with one of his first cousins, who operated as financial controller at the Perth Airport-based company, he is in a reflective mood. Questions over whether it is all worth the hassle start to surface.

“It started over the direction of the company, where we should be going and what we should be doing but as it got more intense it boiled into family issues. Family issues started bubbling to the surface,” Mr Papadoulis said.

“We looked to our father to solve our problems. But if he made a decision I would question if the decision was made on family or business lines and vice versa. It just got really messy.

“She (his cousin) was like a sister to me. It was very hard for everyone. The bombs have only just stopped exploding.

“It never got to the courts. I don’t think it will ever get that bad. Not talking to each other maybe is the worst its going to get.”

With the 12-month ordeal behind him, Mr Papadoulis is once again feeling positive about the prospects of the business which enjoys about a $4 million turnover a year.

The problems have been felt also by Mr Papadoulis’ parents who still own the business.

After suffering a bad setback in 1997 with the Asian Crisis when “one day the business was there the next day the business was gone” the latest incident has also taken its toll.

Mr Papadoulis said the succession of the business to him and his two siblings would be the next test.

He said his parents would probably just as soon sell the business rather than see the business cause more grief. But Mr Papadoulis is reluctant to do so, because the business is very much part of his life and it would be sad to part with it.

Running a family business also provides a lot of satisfaction

“The positives are support from family and the understanding that when the chips are down usually they will be the last ones to leave. At the end of the day we will put in more than most employees,” he said.

The business also provided employment to family members who were looking for a job.

“In some respects we do feel kind of responsible (for the family). If someone from the family is looking for a job we will give them a job and in some circumstances we will create jobs in order to help out a family member,” he said.

“If you read some family business books they will tell you it’s not a smart thing to do, and it’s not, but trying to distinguish between family and businesses is very hard. The business is an extension of the family.

“In our family we probably treat our family members harder. We probably expect more for less as opposed to giving preferential treatment.”

Mr Papadoulis has also observed a change in the relationship between the family and the business. In the early years, Feature Tours was usually the centre of discussion at all family gatherings. This was now starting to change.

“I think when its smaller everyone knows every detail and so everyone has an opinion. As it gets bigger they don’t know all the details. They want to be informed rather than being part of the discussion of what we should be doing and how we should be doing it,” he said.

“Overall I think our family has benefited through the family business. We could have taken some easier paths at times but it has been exciting.”

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