Although my husband, Gary, is CEO of Stonyfield Farm, his name doesn't appear in the company's phone directory. So after-hours calls often land in the voice-mail box of the only Hirshberg listed: his sister Nancy, who has worked at the company for decades. One morning, back in the '90s, Nancy retrieved her voice mail as usual…and nearly fell over. Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead had left a message soliciting Gary's participation on the board of a farm group headed by one of the guitarist's friends.
"He was one of my biggest crushes of all time!" recalls Nancy. "I kept the call on my voice mail for years. I never wrote down his home number, as I wanted to respect his privacy. But it put a smile on my face every time I heard him say, 'Hi. This is Bob Weir.' Bobby saying 'hi' to me each morning! How lucky could I be?"
Nancy's quirky connection with a musical idol would never have happened without Stonyfield. Her story reminds me that entrepreneurship, for all its challenges, can bestow on families unexpected benefits beyond the obvious financial ones. The spouses, children, parents, and siblings of company founders sometimes get to see and do things that relatives of the conventionally employed can only dream of.
Recently, I asked readers of this column to tell me about wonderful experiences made possible by having a business in the family. Not surprisingly, many of their stories involved travel—children tagging along to visit suppliers or clients in China or Botswana or the cloud forest of Ecuador. Others talked about young kids having fun with grown-up jobs—acting as host and hostess in their parents' restaurant, for example, or learning to take credit card orders over the phone. Many offspring were proud to have products or entire companies named after them.
Entrepreneurs are the first to advise that, in business, it's important to go out on a high note. In that spirit, I'm devoting my last column of 2011 to a selection of perks, opportunities, and adventures enjoyed by the lucky families of company founders. Here are some of their stories:
Our company takes entrepreneurs on extraordinary excursions that are combined with business-building sessions and philanthropy. I was able to take my wife, Missy, and two kids, Zack and Zoe, aged 6 and 4, to Necker Island, Richard Branson's private retreat in the British Virgin Islands. At the time, the island held a maximum of 28 guests, catered to by a staff of 60. At one point, I walked up to the pool after a business session and saw my children sitting in the hot tub with Richard.
Yanik Silver, CEO
Maverick Business Adventures
We had been sending Peeled Snacks to the cast and writers of Saturday Night Live for a couple of seasons through a connection with one of our investors. As a thank-you, SNL gave my husband and me tickets to see the show. Afterward, we got a backstage tour where the likes of Will Forte, John Lutz, and Bill Hader weighed in on our products. My husband is a big Andy Samberg fan, so he was utterly starstruck listening to Andy expound, at 2 a.m., on the virtues of dried mango.
Noha Waibsnaider, CEO, Peeled Snacks
My family and I were featured in a story that appeared in Woman's World about a professional organizing service that was a client of my marketing firm. A team of organizers went to town on our townhouse. For the first time, everything in our home had "a place," and it looked stellar. Even more fun, we all had our hair and makeup done for a big, professional photo shoot right in our living room.
Julianne Weiner, COO, Sonic Promos
I run a game company. My kids—Allison, 17, and Nick, 15—loved my idea for a giant ball into which you could strap yourself, then roll down hills, run, bounce, and flip. They were the human guinea pigs who tested the prototype. They gave me some great ideas for marketing and promotion and helped come up with the name, Bodi Bouncer. Nick suggested we do a demonstration video, so we spent an afternoon filming the kids' friends using it. My son edited the video on his laptop.
Stephen Yennaco, CEO The Giant Game Company
My son benjamin and I appeared twice on The Martha Stewart Show to talk about the family company, Divvies. We make allergen-free food, including Benjamint Crunch, a chocolate bar named for and inspired by Benjamin.
Lori Sandler, founder, Divvies
Not many kids have their dads pilot them to summer camp or get to watch fireworks from the air. My former company, Rokop Corporation, which supplied continuous casting machines to steelmakers, owned a couple of airplanes. I learned how to fly them and was able to take my kids on flights all around the region.
Nik Rokop, managing director
Entrepreneurship Academy Illinois Institute of Technology
My company's success enabled me to join the Entrepreneurs' Organization. Our chapter in Los Angeles threw a party at the Playboy Mansion. I was able to invite only one guest, and I couldn't think of anyone I would rather have with me than my dad. He got some stories to tell his buddies back in New York, that's for sure.
Ben Schaffer, CEO Bulletproof Automotive/Bespoke Ventures
When we launched an Internet product last year, we decided to turn it into a couple of splashy, Apple-style events in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In front of audiences totaling around 700 business people, my 14-year-old son, Alex, skateboarded onto a fog-shrouded stage and did tricks. My 7-year-old, Alina, sang a solo.
Joe Kiedinger, co-owner Prophit Marketing/About Me International
I used to travel with my mom to Los Angeles every three to six months to buy products for her clothing store in Arizona, called Body Heat. I got to see all the next season's styles before anyone else and picked up ideas for my own wardrobe. As a fashion-obsessed teenager, I loved it.
Jennifer Hill, attorney Gunderson Dettmer
I have an advertising agency. Over the years, my daughter, Erin, has appeared in a number of ads for clients. My son, Jacob, made his acting debut in a client's commercial when he was 4 years old. The production company we hired started calling on Jake for other work unrelated to our clients, so he has since appeared in a number of television spots and radio commercials.
Mark Shipley, president, Smith & Jones
Thanks to stonyfield, my children and I have had too many cool experiences to count. We held an event for Barack Obama at our home, and many presidential candidates have toured our plant. I often accompany Gary on trips to Europe. My kids got to know Raffi and have appeared on our packaging and in our ads. We've developed close friendships with many fellow entrepreneurs and their families. During the 25 years I've been hitched to Gary's business, countless dark clouds have massed and threatened. But these days, life is mostly about the silver linings.
MEG CADOUX HIRSHBERG
Meg Cadoux Hirshberg (email@example.com) writes a regular column about the impact of entrepreneurial businesses on families. She is married to Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO of Stonyfield Yogurt.