Sharene Wood is president and CEO of both 5001 Flavors, a custom-made apparel company catering to a celebrity clientele, and Harlem Haberdashery, its retail boutique. The genesis for her family’s businesses rose from her husband’s fashion sense and her own business and style acumen. Sharene collaborates with, and manages a staff of 12 men, including her husband, her brother, her “bonus” son and close family friends. “I am the queen bee, if you will, for both of my companies,” says Wood, and she is responsible for all administrative and organizational duties.
(Photo courtesy of Harlem Haberdashery)
Family businesses come with their own unique personnel problems. The line between home and work is blurred, and personal issues and emotions are bound up in the company’s culture. “My position as CEO mirrors the same protective role of a matriarch that I have in my family,” says Wood, but she found that dealing with 12 different men of different ages, from different backgrounds, challenged her managerial skills. “Being a woman in charge, I have to be very aware that sometimes men are not the best communicators,” says Wood. Communication problems in the work place led to morale problems that drained the energy needed in their highly creative enterprises. She now addresses this problem by communicating separately to each member of her staff to ensure clarity.
While traditional organizational charts place the CEO firmly on top, with cascading tiers of responsibility below, to manage the diverse personalities in her family business, Wood takes a less rigid approach. “The easiest thing working with family is knowing each member’s pre-existing strengths and weaknesses. I really work hard to only ask people to perform tasks that I know they can handle. That definitely is a more flexible approach than traditional management where job responsibilities are fixed with titles.” This flexible system works because there is a company-wide understanding of the business’s mission. Employees know they must contribute their time and unique talents to achieving a common goal.
“Happy, motivated workers will deliver happiness, better service and a more superior quality product to your customers,” says Wood. To achieve this, she treats all her staff like family, recognizing birthdays and important life milestones. Employees engage in holiday gift exchanges. “We like to recognize our employee as a human with a life and a family outside of our business .… Our goal is to treat our employees like family members we love.”
Does work ever become too casual in this family environment? “We definitely have this problem! Our brand has a lot of professional obligations but also has a very cool social marketing component. Our marketing events easily allow an intersection of family, fun, entertainment, fashion and philanthropy. Fun parties with cool themes – Masquerade Balls, 80’s parties, etc – are still work events, and I often have to remind other family members that we are always working from start to finish. We all sometimes have to refocus our energies to get the necessary results or reach our intended goals.”
This article was written by Gillian Burdett for Small Business Pulse