Family factor Featured

11:36am EDT November 20, 2003
There's a family business, and then there's a family business.

Most family-run firms boast a married couple and some children, or maybe a pair of brothers and their kids.

Not so at the Richard T. Kiko Agency and the related Russ Kiko Associates. These interwoven companies -- one a real estate agency and the other an auction firm -- sport no fewer than 37 family members out of about 60 employees.

"The uniqueness of our industry is real conducive to the benefits a family brings," says Richard Kiko Jr., who holds the vice president position for both companies and runs the day-to-day affairs. "If you take a large real estate company full of agents, it's pretty competitive, and there is not a lot of sharing going on. In our business, we are all in this together. If I need help, I can grab my uncle, my brother or my father. We share income with them and work with them all within the family, versus me hoarding my knowledge."

Everyone, whether they are a family member or not, works under the same salary formula.

"Everybody is an independent contractor," says Kiko. "There is a formula for how commissions are paid out, and it is applied to everyone, whether they are related or not. Under those guidelines, everyone is treated fairly. The harder they work, the more money they make. It's not a matter where I am determining their salary. There are some nonfamily members that probably make more money than family members."

One of the challenges is knowing where business stops and family starts.

"There is always that grey area of where you separate your personal life from your business life," says Kiko. "With the family business, that area is much bigger. My dad and my brothers, we spend a lot of time together as a family. The business becomes part of your personal life. Some issues you leave at the office, but your personal and business lives are melded together. It creates more of a personal atmosphere at work."

Kiko says teams have evolved made up of the various family units, and coming from farming families, these relationships and team concepts come naturally. But there is also a lot at stake. When family members go out into the community, they are representing not only themselves, but the business and the rest of the family as well.

"It's not just me as an individual," says Kiko. "A positive public image is part of our brand. Going out there with a negative public image would not be a good idea.

"Being in a family business is fun. It can be frustrating, but it is so rewarding when you know what you do is for the betterment of the people you know and love. Even the people who aren't relatives are treated like family. They are as much a part of our family as our blood relatives. They have to be, because now if we want to grow and expand, there are simply not enough relatives to do that."

Preserving that family atmosphere has been one of the biggest keys to the companies' success.

"When someone calls us to sell their biggest possession they have in their life, they have to hand it over to us and have faith that it will sell," says Kiko. "That's why we have been so successful. People are taking a leap of faith, but with a family it is easier to take because we are taking that leap with them.

"We do almost 800 auctions a year, and more than 500 include real estate. Once it is written up, there is way more behind it than just the person sitting there."

How to reach: Russ Kiko Associates or Richard Kiko Agency, (330) 453-9187


Keys to running a family business

Richard Kiko Jr. runs the day-to-day operations of Russ Kiko Associates and Richard Kiko Agency, two interrelated family businesses that have 37 family members in various positions.

Here are his keys to success in a family business:

* Don't run the business like your household. Run it like a business.

* Use corporate America as a model. Have a board, a president and some form of democracy that will alleviate a lot of the pressure from the family monarch. A corporate structure will make it less stressful and less personal.

* Avoid groupthink. It is easy when you are around people that you grew up with to be narrow-minded and come to a quick consensus. Consumers think differently than your family members.

* Have fun. If you are not having fun, go back home and try again tomorrow.

* Don't be afraid to ask for outside help. Take advantage of the professional opinions that are available to help you avoid groupthink and to constantly challenge your ideas.