UK: What's your problem?

UK: What's your problem? - TIME FOR A FAMILY RESHUFFLE

by JEREMY BULLMORE.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

TIME FOR A FAMILY RESHUFFLE

My uncle is chairman of the business I run as managing director. It is profitable but he is holding it back. Everything I do is overturned by him. How can I get rid of him? His family owns 50% of the business, mine owns the other 50%.

Now you know why so many experts warn against 50/50 ownership. It so often leads to tears - or even worse, to stultification. That's what seems to be happening to you. So don't struggle on, getting more and more resentful. Go for clarification.

Tell your board (I hope you've got one) that the company is suffering from blurred lines of responsibility and that you have two recommendations to make. First, that the chairman's role be confirmed as non-executive and that you, as managing director, are clearly the chief executive; and second, to reflect this distinction, your uncle's family should sell, say, 5% of its shares to your family - thereby making ownership 55/45 in your favour.

I don't know the politics and I don't know the composition of your board - but at least this will bring matters to a head. If your recommendations are accepted, you may have a sulky uncle on your hands, but he won't be able (at least not as easily) to undermine your authority. And if your recommendations are rejected, then you'll know it's time for you to move on.

Running a family business can get very fraught and claustrophobic, as you've discovered. But there is a world elsewhere. If you're any good, this could be an important opportunity for you.

THE EXPENSE OF MISTRUST

I recently went on a gruelling annual work conference and used the spa facilities at the hotel (on the recommendation of my colleagues). When I tried to reclaim the cost as expenses, my chief executive refused my claim. He says he paid his own spa costs this time last year, but I have checked the records and know this is not the case.

This is all very interesting. I don't think it's the expense claim itself that's bugging you. I think you're telling me that you and your CEO are not on the best of terms, that you haven't trusted him for some time and that you've now unearthed evidence that you're right not to trust him. Why else would you have taken the trouble (and run the risk) of checking a superior's year-old expenses?

What I also infer is that the unease you feel about each other is a form of competitiveness: why else, unless he's a congenital fibber, should he lie to you? I think he knows you're a bit iffy about him and wasn't going to give you the pleasure of being in the right. Not very grown-up, I agree: but human enough.

All of this is both extremely petty and extremely serious. This is how marriages come to an end - it's why Henry storms out of the house for ever because Jane never puts the top back on the toothpaste: the most trivial of misdemeanours being asked to bear the full responsibility for years of accumulated doubt, resentment and discontentment.

This sort of relationship can be repaired - but it takes cunning and a painful smidgen of selflessness. If there's going to be an easing of tension, you probably feel that it's up to your chief executive to make the first move. After all, he's the top banana. What's more, you're in the right and he's not. Absolutely correct; but forget all that stuff.

Be mature beyond your years. He may not deserve it - but try and make it easy for him. Take him out to lunch (not, I suggest, on expenses) and ask him what else you can do to be of use to the company. If he doesn't respond - or if you have good reason to believe that he's chronically untrustworthy - start preparing yourself for a career move. He's not worthy of you.

BEARING DOWN ON DOWNLOADERS

It has been brought to my attention that a few of my staff are downloading internet porn at work. I think it is a serious problem but I don't know what to do. Can you advise me?

I wonder who it was that brought this to your attention? And I wonder about the underlying reasons for your concern. Do you disapprove of porn, or of people enjoying themselves, or of people wasting company time? Try and be clear about this in your mind.

The area is a hugely complex one - and getting more so. Some companies have fired employees for using company networks to obtain pornography Others have started monitoring the internet sites being accessed by staff - and even their e-mails. But take care: you may be getting yourself into personal privacy issues here.

The best idea seems to be to produce a short Code of Conduct, integrated into your standard terms of employment, so that misuse of the internet becomes a recognised disciplinary offence. The most important paragraph should simply state that company equipment may be used for company purposes only. All employees with access to the internet should be asked to sign and return a copy. For advice on useful software packages available, try CenturyCom on 01635 295500.

Alternatively, you might just let it be be known that, in order to guard against internet-borne viruses, daily random monitoring will take place with immediate effect. This is a bit like installing speed-cameras with no film in them: they flash convincingly, deter the wrong-doer and don't cost much.

Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W67JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

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