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Daddy Dearest

What's a son to do when his father--who also happens to be his boss--won't take him seriously? Plus: Stop cold-calling now.
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In 1992, my father, uncle, brother, and I founded a manufacturing company. I have run various departments. But ultimate control has always remained with my father, who has never involved me in any major decisions. There is a definite lack of trust in my abilities, and he has stubbornly refused to discuss these issues. Should I walk away and start afresh? Or is there a way to salvage the situation?

Niteen Sharma
Trueshape Engineers, Mumbai, India

"Parents," said the English writer Samuel Butler, "are the last people on earth who ought to have children." Some parents are also the last people who ought to employ children. There are plenty of family businesses in which members spend more time pushing one another's buttons than pushing buttons on the shop floor. Your father may be running the company the way he ran the family when you were a child, and that dynamic is probably so ingrained as to be immutable. "At this point, he is probably happy with who and what he is," says Quentin Fleming, a family business expert at USC's Marshall School of Business. "You'll drive yourself crazy trying to convince him to change."

Unlike their younger selves, adult children in bad situations can choose to leave. Do so. It will get dad's attention, and could get him talking. Plus, it will diversify your resumé in case the company doesn't become more family-friendly. But be sure to leave bridges uncharred as you're bidding farewell. "It's important to phrase it as, 'I want to leave to try something else,' not 'I've got to get out of here because you're ruining my life," says Fleming.

If you do hang on, try moving your relationship onto a more professional footing. Follow the lead of Dennis Sponer, CEO of Las Vegas-based ScripNet, whose mother owns 50% of the company. "We're both people who like to run things," Sponer says. To keep blood out of the corporate waters, Sponer has drafted some formal rules of conduct, and he recently hired an outside mediator. Now, "when my mom says, 'You ungrateful son...!' the mediator says, 'No, let's stay on track."

Three years ago, my property rental business filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I retained the majority of the property and have made payments on time and paid all secured creditors. How long before the financial community will take me seriously and loan funds for new property acquisitions?

John Allen
Management Partners, Atlanta

Repaying your creditors on time is the first step to restoring your image with potential lenders. Even so, most traditional banks won't deem you loan-worthy for at least five to seven years after a Chapter 11 filing. Bringing on a partner with a spotless credit record or securing the loan with 100% cash in a CD may hasten your return to grace. Good deeds in other areas--such as getting and keeping up with a car loan--can also demonstrate your worthiness, says Dana Drago, president of Bank of America's small-business division.

Your ace in the hole is real estate: Many mortgage lenders and financing companies are happy to loan money backed by property rather than by cash flow or other typical gauges of credit-worthiness. Of course, these companies take greater risks, which means higher rates. Finally, you must understand why you went bankrupt in the first place. Drago suggests retaining a good financial adviser to help you set realistic expansion goals for your new business. With such checks in place, you're less likely to stumble again.

I recently started a video production business and am strategizing the best way to get clients. I have been cold-calling with very little success. What is your advice on securing new clients?

Jeff Borg
Serena Productions, Portland, Oreg.

First, come in from the cold-calling. Such tactics get a chilly reception for good reason: They're intrusive and don't engage potential clients at times they might actually need your services. Plus, they make you appear needy. No wonder the tactic has such an abysmally low success rate.

Cold-calling treats prospects as strangers: A better approach is to make them your friends--or at least acquaintances. Target a small group of people on a personal level, then let word of mouth do your proselytizing for you, advises Deborah J. Marlor, CEO of Boise-based DJM Sales & Marketing. Get to know the businesses in your area that require video production services--event planners, caterers, wedding-industry vendors, and the like. "Focus on the most influential people," says Samantha Ettus, president of Ettus Media Management, a New York City branding firm. You might take the doing-well-by-doing-good tack and offer your services, gratis, to local charities, Ettus suggests. That will expose a population of influential businesspeople and community leaders to your work, and potential clients involved in those causes will feel all warm and toasty about you when they need video services of their own.

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS? Stumped by a thorny business problem? Let Inc. help. Send your questions to AskInc@inc.com. We'll consult with experienced entrepreneurs and savvy advisers, folks who've been where you are and figured out what works and what doesn't. If you don't like what we have to say--well, you can tell us that, too.

Last updated: Jan 1, 2004




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