Working with family members can undoubtedly be trying at times. But family businesses also have a distinct atmosphere of trust, loyalty and commitment. Tas Bindi finds out the highs and lows of running, or working in, a family-based broking business.
Family businesses have a unique atmosphere characterised by trust, harmony, loyalty, commitment and motivation, broking industry leaders say. They also admit that working with family members can, at times, prove to be a sticky and challenging situation, with the line between work and family life often difficult to define.
While they can butt heads every now and again, father and son Paul and Ryan Pappas say they largely work harmoniously together in their Sydney CBD-based Mortgage Choice franchise business.
Paul Pappas launched the franchise 20 years ago, operating successfully as a “one-man band” for most of that time.
When his son joined in 2014 to “just do the admin”, he picked up a range of sophisticated skills along the way, ultimately helping take the business to the next level.
“He picked up the ability to write loans, the ability to actually meet with clients... not only do the documents sign-ups at the backend, but start doing front-end interviews,” Paul Pappas says.
“He picked [these] up over the years; it didn’t happen immediately. But this has freed up the time for marketing and other business generating activities.”
The principal says he was settling around $43 million in loans per year. His son’s ascension to client relationship manager helped lift that figure to $55 million over the last two years.
“There’s absolutely no question as to why that has grown,” he says, adding that clients appreciate that they’re dealing with a father-son duo.
Paul Pappas believes the reason they work so well together is because they’ve had some practice.
He says he helped his son, who had intended to go down the media career path before dipping his toes in finance, start a video production micro-business at the age of 14 for extra pocket money and they have since been working in business together “in some way, shape or form”.
“You’ve got a grey-haired fox with good experience who can oversee things, which is me, and then you’ve got a young gun who just gets things done,” he says, adding that while he didn’t rope his son into the business, he’s glad that he found his feet in it.
According to Ryan Pappas, “You’re a lot more motivated when you’re working for something that the family has created.”
He acknowledges that learning from his father in a practical setting proved to be more valuable than learning from outdated textbooks.
“A lot of the education is not keeping up with current regulations because, obviously, it’s an ever-changing market. So, having someone who’s had the experience is definitely beneficial because he is able to steer me in the right direction,” Ryan Pappas says.
For George Samios, founder of Brisbane-based broking firm Madd Loans, bringing his mother into the business to do administrative work really helped get the business off the ground at a time when he couldn’t afford staff.
“She did mortgage admin stuff, so paperwork, chasing up documents, booking appointments, organising the payment of bills. It enabled me to do what I do best, which is write home loans, while she took care of the back end of the business. So, she was the silent achiever,” he says.
Initially, Mr Samios’ mum, Helen Zeremes, “worked for love” because she believed in her son, but she became an important fixture – and not necessarily because of her banking experience.
“There’s just more love,” the Madd Loans founder says.
“The family values that you have, when you’re working with your mother, it becomes part of your business core values. There’s a different vibe. When you walk into the office, it’s ‘Would you like a coffee? Tea? Water? Are you hungry? What do you want?’
“If you bring kids, mum will play with the kids, while I do the meeting with the parents. You don’t even realise it, but it’s a different level of service.”
It’s not always easy working with family though, Mr Samios admits.
“Sometimes telling your mum what to do or to hurry up what she’s doing is pretty hard… because the way you say things can affect your relationship,” he says.
“But the only person that I can have an argument with and then say ‘I’m sorry, I love you, let’s continue this later’ is probably my mother.”
The Madd Loans founder recalls times when his mum, having been a part of the business from the early days, would get frustrated when staff members wouldn’t demonstrate the same strong work ethic.
“I think because my work ethic is very high, and her work ethic working next to me obviously had to be high as well, when we [recruited] people who were coming in at 9am, leaving at 5pm, and
having a long lunch break, it was hard for her,” Mr Samios explains.
“I understood that no one’s going to work as hard as me or my mother because otherwise they could start their own brokerage. I just had to explain to her that these guys are helping us a lot and remind her in the start we couldn’t take a holiday. Now we can because we have a team.”
While Mr Samios is proud at how he has grown his brokerage, which writes $200 million in loans per year and employs 10 staff, he says working with his mother keeps him grounded.
According to Loan Market executive chairman Sam White, when working in a family business (such as the Ray White Group), it’s important to focus on the outcome that needs to be improved rather than the person responsible for those outcomes when communicating the need for improvements.
“You have to separate the performance from the individual, and if there are things to discuss or if there are things that aren’t working, the focus needs to be on how to fix it rather than telling them you’re not happy with that person. You say that the behaviour or the skills aren’t right as opposed to the person is not right,” he explains.
“The biggest thing is being able to communicate effectively, both the good and the bad, and being able to express that there is something we can do better without someone thinking it’s an attack on [them]. If you can’t have those honest discussions, it does become a problem in time in my experience.”
Mr White notes that in a family business, it can be all too easy to “take things for granted” and not show full appreciation for the work family members do, which can lead to tension that flows into the home.
This is why, as Paul Pappas recommends, it’s important to “draw a clear line” between work and family life.
“So, 9am to 5pm, it’s business. After hours, it’s family, so you have to switch off from work,” he says.
Meanwhile, Mr Samios suggests ensuring “work time doesn’t substitute actual family time”.
“Make sure you don’t forget that work time is different to family time. So, if you work with your mother or any other family member, make sure to still have family time, whether that’s going out for dinner once a week or whatever you do,” he says.
“Don’t ever let business overtake your family relationships.”
Tas Bindi is the features editor for The Adviser magazine.
Prior to joining Momentum Media, Tas wrote for business and technology titles such as ZDNet, TechRepublic, Startup Daily, and Dynamic Business.
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