Thriving with a family-run business

George Kiorpelidis, Founder, GK|BC Leadership

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George is an ICF-trained and certified NLP coach. His focus is on helping leaders of organizations and their teams build highly functional and supportive working environments.

George has worked with and learned about business from some of the best names in the corporate tech sector, Nortel, NEC, and Future Electronics. He brought the lessons learned in the corporate world to his own retail and online business, which he grew from three to over ten employees while doubling sales. After managing that business for 10 years, he sold it to focus his attention on business coaching.

His experiences working in the tech sector and as an entrepreneur has proven invaluable to his career as a business coach.  To complement his real-world experience, George has completed International Coaching Federation coaching Level 4 certification with the renowned Erickson College.

George’s sense of community goes beyond the business world. As a mentor and volunteer, he gives generously of his time and talents to the non-profit group Toastmasters, where he shares his passion for public speaking and leadership training.

Family-run business can be rewarding. However, what happens when the children are entitled, or when the founder is afraid of growth? George shares some tips to help family-run businesses be successful.

Talking Points: 

{01:24} Becoming an ordained minister at age 13!

{07:05} The biggest challenge for a family business in today's modern environment?

{12:55} What has changed with young people feeling like they need to be the CEO tomorrow morning?

{17:55} How do you go from plateau to growth in a family business?

{20:15} How do you get a founder to open their mind?

{24:16} Why you should work with a family-run business with only a few employees

{26:00} Red flags to look for

{29:00} Separating personal information and professional at Thanksgiving.

Welcome to the Talent Empowerment Podcast, where we share the stories of great leaders so you can lift your organizations, your teams, and your community. I'm your host, Tom Finn, and today we have a fine gentleman who spent time as a former ordained minister, turned business coach, and is an expert in family-run businesses.

His name is George Kiropeliedies. Welcome to the show, George.

Thank you so much, Tom, and man, you did so well with the name. I swear, if I could send you a medal, I'd do it right now.

I appreciate it when you say, "See this name spelled out in the show notes." You will understand why, and we'll get into George's background in just a second because he is a former ordained minister turned ICF-trained and certified NLP coach.

Now his focus is on helping leaders and organizations and their teams build highly functional and supportive work environments. George founded his own company after working with and learning about business from some of the best names in corporate technology, including Nortel, NEC, and Future Electronics. He then went on to start his own business. He now works one-on-one with executives and business leaders in a wide range of industries, including pharma and fashion, advertising, consulting, and aerospace. What a deep and rich background!

But the first question we all want the answer to be, "How did you become an ordained minister?" And I happen to know. That happened at age 13! So, George, tell us the backstory.

My mother was very involved in religion and the church, and when my eldest brother was born with Down syndrome, it was a bit of a shock for my parents, especially my mother, and I believe that when I came along, she felt it would be a good thing for her son to become a minister, to, you know, even the odds and bring balance if you please.

Yeah, fantastic at 13 years old. What does that look like? What exactly does that mean?

Oh, boy. OK, so it's school, of course, school During the day and then after school, it's Bible studies, right? So, it's 33 Bible study meetings and courses every evening, and on Saturdays, I was out knocking on doors and selling God to the people, and it was great. It was an amazing experience. I met a lot of amazing people, and it was a great education that allowed me to grow. I developed my soft skills, and I received some pretty intense and excellent training over the years.

Yeah, I imagine that gives you a real perspective. While you were doing the Lord's work at 13, I was selling frozen pizzas door to door for Boy Scouts to go on a camping trip. I'm not sure it's the same thing, but I do remember knocking on doors and trying to sell frozen pizza, and how hard that was. As you know, I am an adolescent. Then, to get up the nerve to go, knock on that door. Did you have any nerves when you were going through this? Or were you just unnatural?

Well, because I was doing it. Since it was pretty normal for me for such a long time at such a young age. And of course, when you're like, you know, uh, Tyke, when you're a little kid, you've got the cute factor on your side, right? It gets harder as you get older. That changes, but the nerve thing doesn't. It never really happened to me because I just got used to it. as I got older.

Yeah, fair enough. So, are you an ordained minister today?

No, I'm not. That's an interesting story, and I don't want to get into it too much. But, in a nutshell, when my middle son was about 7-8 years old, he developed a very serious illness that required surgery, a major surgery, and it was all because of the church that I was involved with, you know blood transfusions were a big no-no.

You know, I kind of said, "Well, I filled out that part of the form before the surgery," and the surgeon said, "That's great." I respect your beliefs, but you've got to take your son someplace else because I will not do the surgery. I'm the only surgeon in the hospital that can do this surgery, so I'm sorry.

And it was at that moment that I had to make a decision, and I won't say that it all happened then because I was 35 and I'd already started to have my doubts in my mind, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back, and at that moment I broke ties with the organization and my whole world changed. Everything in my life, including my job, my wife, my family, all my friends, my mother, and my sister, changed.

So, this was a completely new beginning for you and your family.

Yeah, we just had to start from zero.

And what did that feel like at the time?

Devastating, my employer had left as if they had no choice. My in-laws, and my marriage broke up. Everything changed, so I had to start from scratch and rebuild my identity in terms of my business and my income because I lost my job. So, I had to reinvent that.

And you know, that's when I started to appreciate my dad's side of the family because my dad never got into religion. He was busy running his business. He had a successful business. I'm a third-generation entrepreneur, and so I embraced that side of my history and started to take business seriously.

And I gained a lot of knowledge and experience from my dad. I mean, even though I was in a religious community, my parents never broke up, so I was always exposed to my dad's business. You know, by helping him out when I could on the weekends and things like that, I saw firsthand how a family business runs. Everything from, you know, making sales to paying payroll to hire people to fire people to dealing with theft, everything.

Yeah, well, that family business experience we're going to jump right into in just a second, but for those of us that have kids, we're sort of at the end of this cliff-hanger here, and I'm not sure if I want to listen to the rest of the show, and I'm hosting it.

So you're going to have to help us all out here. George, is your son OK?

Michael is doing fabulous. He's a strapping young lad. He's a badass in the restaurant business. So, yes, he's doing fantastically well.

All right, now we can. We can now move on for the sake of those parents out there. I know you were all thinking the same thing I was, which was, "Oh my goodness, is his son all right?" And then that's what we're all hoping for. So, thank you for sharing that personal tidbit with us, George.

So let's jump in. Let's jump into the business side, shall we? Because you've done a lot in the family business, you've been around it a long time, and this is really where a lot of your expertise lies. What do you think is the biggest challenge for a family business in today's modern environment?

Wow, well, there are a lot of them, but I think one of the main ones is the transition of a lot of baby boomers who started businesses Tom, are in a situation where their children either don't want to get involved in the business or are involved in it, but for lots of different reasons because they didn't build the business. They deal, the owners, the Founders deal with a lot of challenges. For example, entitlement is one of the big challenges. I'm the son or daughter of the boss, therefore. I have this or that, or I'm entitled to this or that. Or, you know, that becomes a big challenge for a lot of them.

It's tough for business owners to deal with because you could have employees that have been in the business for 25/30 years. who have this much experience, and then a junior comes along with like next to no experience and, you know, wants to assume a position where they're superior, and that becomes a very, very big challenge for a lot of businesses.

So, the word I know is nepotism. Right where you are given some sort of role because of who you are within a family structure or an organization. And so, is that what people are feeling? If you're an employee and you know you have more experience than the founder's daughter, but she wants to run the organization, how do you handle it? How do you manage?

Because it is a challenge, both founders - Dad or Mom - and the daughter or son {The child} needs to come to an understanding of what's involved, how they communicate with each other, what the responsibilities are, and what the boundaries are like. I've had some. People say, "Well, you don't call me dad at work; you call me, you know." Mr., as well as my first name, but don't call me Dad or Mom.

And other things, like, you know, during meetings, you know we're going to do it this way. You know we're not going to be overriding each other. We're going to sing from the same song sheet. Such things.

And then there's not overcompensating, but going out of your way to ensure the team's success. It seems that you're treating your children or other members of your family the same as everybody else. Not worse, because I've seen worse. I've seen where founders' parents treat the children in the business worse than the employees. You know, thinking that it overcompensates. That's a no-no. It needs to be fair, and it needs to be based on rules and guidelines that have already been discussed and laid out.

Well, George the real question is, are you a licensed marriage and family therapist and counselor? This reminds me of you. are entering businesses and engaging in a lot of interpersonal communication that takes place not only in the boardroom but possibly at the dinner table?


And in my own family, I've seen the struggles that my father had with his siblings. He was in business with his sister when things went rocky. I was in business with my brother and that ended up being very rocky. It ended up in court, and that could be the topic. a whole other discussion. It ended up being OK, and we're friends now, and everything is fine.

But yes, you know, family dinners impact boardroom meetings in those situations.

Well, I think what I heard as sort of a wrap-up to that question is that the biggest challenge in today's family-run businesses is this idea of who's taking over next and where the power lies within the organization. And if that's not identified very clearly, that affects not only the family members but also the employees of the organization. Then you're going to create conflict, and that conflict will create chaos, and I would imagine that that leads to a poorly run family operation.

Absolutely, and I'll quickly give you some kind of story. The Molson family, a large brewing family in Montreal, has been around for well over a century. They have a rule that if you're a Molson and want to get into the business, you have to do your time on the bottom floor.

You're familiar with the shipping yards. driving a forklift, loading beer into trucks, or other such roles just to show that you're at that level, have done the work, and have exposed yourself to the team, and you've earned your stripes.

Right, and you know, I'm not suggesting that everyone does that, but they have a thought-out process for how they deal with that idea of entitlement in their organization.

But isn't that the way business used to be George, you start at the bottom right, like, "Yeah, yeah, it worked in the mailroom." If you're in a white-collar environment like your example was, you know Molson. We can all visualize the forklift, and we can all visualize the 22-year-old sort of Molson on the back of his jersey there, you know, cruising through the warehouse.

But even back in the day, in these white-collar environments, it was always best to start at the bottom. You were somebody's assistant. You were developed and trained. You should have had some emotional intelligence and intelligence that propelled you to the next level. This was always sort of historical. Playbook: What has changed with these young people, or is it age? Specifically, these individuals feel like they need to be the CEO tomorrow morning.

I don't know. I've read a ton on the subject.

I've read very, very well-researched articles from Harvard. You know that. Discuss helicopter parenting and how these 22/23/24-year-olds are graduating from university expecting six-figure salaries despite having no experience.

You know that the phenomenon of entitlement is something that I think a lot of us in the business world are trying to wrap our heads around. But this idea of starting in the mailroom is not one that is embraced by very many people.

Yeah, and I think the idea was always that you understood from the ground up how to service customers and how to service the business at all different levels, and then all the different parts of the business trickled down, and the idea of the ivory tower was taken away.

We're trying to demonstrate that here at “talent empowerment”, servant leadership and lifting people is the best way to go, and ultimately, servant leadership just means inverting the triangle so that we all work for the organization and for the teams that we support.

Well, I know that a lot of the leading companies out there have created these artificial systems for recruiting. They have to go through some sort of gauntlet when they get on board. This kind of test will reveal those aspects of their personality before they even get the job. So they're trying to come up with ways to replicate that mailroom experience, but it is certainly a challenge for a lot of them.

So if those are the challenges starting? small or medium-sized businesses that are run by families What are some of the things that are big wins? What's gone well for some of these organizations?

That's a great question. It's easy to focus on the things that go wrong, but there are some very, very old and well-established family businesses.

I can return to the wonderful family business that the Molsons still have. There are a lot of members of the Molson family at the helm. They do it correctly.

I did some research and discovered that one of the oldest publicly traded businesses has been in operation for well over 1000 years, and it is a family business based in Japan. As a result, there is a lot that can go right.

The trust that is developed in a family business. You know the passed-on knowledge of the industry, the people's knowledge, clients' knowledge, and suppliers' knowledge are amazing; it's hard to replicate.

You know, we all talk about how, when you recruit somebody into your organization, it takes X number of years before you get your ROI on that. And half the time, these people are gone before you get anything in return.

So when you have a family member who has been there for ten, twenty, or thirty years and you're wondering if their children will be involved with the third generation, that knowledge is extremely valuable, so it works. It works well.

So, the power is really about longevity in the role and knowing that your son or daughter is not going to move on to another company. They are likely going to stay in the family business. assuming, and I think this is an assumption here, that they're going to be treated the way that they want to be treated, which matches their peers. outside of a family-run business.

You must, without a doubt, give.

Because that's what we're all doing. Right, George? We're comparing ourselves to what our friends are doing in other spaces. Certainly, you know that, in your younger years, that becomes more prevalent.

I have one case where the son had gone to university, got a tech background, and his dad was a plumber. It was him and a partner. They had two trucks, and they were making a good living as plumbers, just doing their thing, when their son got laid off during the Tech, .com bust. and Hey, come work for the family business. Oh no, I can't do that, and blah blah blah. I'm looking for a tech job, blah blah blah.

Long story, short version is that he did take over the business and grow it. 15 Truck Company and he uses his tech skills within the company to help it grow. And now he's challenged, he's making good money, and he can walk proudly with the rest of his tech buddies and say, "Hey, I took a business from here and I brought it up to there and I took something. I didn't, and neither did I. I built it. I didn't just ride on their coattails.

Yeah, that's beautifully said. and let's dig in there a little bit. So, the example is really about an outsider coming into an organization. Help it grow.

Now help us with some other examples of how a family business can grow, because what we tend to think is that a family business will hit a plateau. And, based on the decisions made within that structure, they will simply remain on that plateau because no one is willing to take the risk to help it grow.

So how do you go from plateau to growth in a family business?

It boils down to the attitude of the founder. So, we discussed the child's entitlement. But there's also the entitlement of the owner, and here's what I mean, Tom.

Sometimes, if their headspace isn't right, their mindset isn't right. They say this is my business. I created it. I am responsible for where it goes. And depending on how limited their thinking is, who else do you bring in, whether the founder is a family member or not, they're going to hit that ceiling if the founder isn't open to new things and isn't, you know, able to take risks or accept risks. It won't. It won't grow; it will plateau.

It'll plateau according to the ability of the founders imagination and risk tolerance. So if the founder can get over that and open up their minds to other ideas, regardless of whether it's family or whether it's somebody else, they're going to hit that play. Until a partner or a manager has an idea for a spinoff, spinout, or extension of the business, if the founder isn't open to it, it's not going to happen.

So, the first requirement is that the founder is open to it, You know you're not being stupid about it. You put it to the test. If you conduct a pilot project, and you let your son or daughter or executive or whatever take on that in a controlled way, and then you spin off or spin out the business based on that. But yes, they have to have that mindset that they're willing to do that, because if they aren't, that plateau will happen, and I don't believe in plateaus. You're either expanding or contracting. Because your competition never stands still, right?

So, a plateau is just a cute word, but it's not real.

All right, so That's incredibly helpful, but you talked about the mindset of a founder, and that is not easy to move and shake. You're an ICF train coach. You've got a background in some of this work in terms of behavioral science. So how do we get a founder, and let's just play this out. Who's been in the job for 30 years? Whoever founded this company has made a living off of it for a long time to support his family and has a closed mind.

How do you get a founder to open their mind?

If it's a totally closed mindset, Tom, there's nothing you can do. I want to make this clear. There's no such thing as a magic wand. Nobody has that power

So a coach's job is to find out. Is it completely closed, or is there still access? A crack: is there a ray of hope? And if there's a ray of hope, then it's the coach's job to find it. And the best way that I know to do it is to simply ask the founder what do you want. When you are at the  end of your road and look back? Do you want What you want to see, or do you want to see your family? Or do you want to see your kids? Or do you want to see your grandchildren? Or do you want to see your employees? Where do you want to see your community?

And depending on how they can visualize that and what they see or would like to see, that's how. I expose those cracks.

There are cracks, and if I can find them, you can see if you can use leverage to open them and where they lead. But really, it boils down to desire and visualizing their future and seeing if that future looks brighter or if it's just more of the same.

Yeah, what I think I'm hearing is that you've got to tap into your heart a little bit.

Because these founders are constantly reminded of them because they are required to do so daily they have to function and run the company to support the lives of those who work there, and what I think I hear you say is to tap into their hearts and understand what truly drives and moves them, and that will give you the answer, or at least an inkling of how to open up a founder's mind.

And Tom, you hit a good point there in the sense that there's a difference between being an entrepreneur and being self-employed.

I mean, if you've got that business to give yourself a paycheck, which is honorable, that's fabulous. And in a situation like that, you've got to come to terms with that and understand that there may not be a lot of growth potential there, as well as if the child in the Business wants to go further that may not be the right environment for them. But if they do have an entrepreneurial mindset and they're there—maybe just kind of stuck and mired down in the day-to-day but wishing they could get above it and do more—then yes, a coach can help. In that regard,

Yeah, well said, so when I think about a family business, I'm wondering whether it is correct to say that an organization is run by 5 to 10 people. For a second, is that incorrect thinking outside of Molson’s? and I know we have them a big one, you know.

No, it's not, I think.

Global is the beverage brand here that we've used as an example.

But is it still sort of a five- to the ten-person organization? Or have things changed?

No, it's still there. It's still the same.

I think I came across something saying that 83% of small businesses in America have fewer than 10 employees. So yeah, it is. It is that. And just because you're small, that doesn't mean you have to think small, and just because you're small, that doesn't mean you're not important because a lot of people are like major taxpayers. I mean, they are the lifeblood of our economy, so all of them. If they adopt a more sophisticated way of running their businesses and thinking about their businesses, they will all do better, as will the country.

Yeah, well said

And so let's think about this from the other angle: if you and I are buyers and we're in the market and we're looking for strategic partners, why would we work with a family-run business that only has, say, 10 or 15 employees?

What would be the advantage for us to work with a company like that?

It depends on you and your size, to borrow a term from the Bible. You know you don't want to be unevenly yoked with your partners.

You know, when you're dealing with a much larger organization and you're here, I can think of all the companies that got squashed by Walmart because they partnered with Walmart as a small company, and Walmart just kind of squashes it. That's not necessarily a very positive situation to be in, but if you're two family businesses and you can, you can work together to have some synergy and go you know, 2 + 2 = 10. That could be a very, very good thing because now you're partnering and using each other's strengths to get even better.

But I will say it's not easy, and it does take a little bit of outside help to iron out the wrinkles and create that system for bridging those two companies together so that they can avoid some of the pitfalls, like the ego-based pitfalls, and put systems in place to make those kinds of decisions. Partnerships are more effective.

Are you enjoying what you said? Watch out for those ego-based pitfalls. So what are some of the pitfalls? Or should we call them "warnings"? Perhaps for family-run businesses, what are the things that, if I'm in a family-run business now, I could be an employee or a member of the family, but what are the things to be on the lookout for on either side of this?

It's this for me.

There's a difference between being the boss and being the influencer. So I've been involved in companies where the president, owner, founder, or whatever title you want to give them, thinks it's going this way.

But there's another person in the organization who could be somebody very close in terms of an admin person or an operations person. Maybe someone in charge of sales turns the knobs and controls and moves the company in the right direction.

So for me, the big question is: Is the founder really in charge? Is their agenda being followed, or are they just kind of following it? Allowing the team to relocate the company to where? I want to go. That's a really big "you know" flag for me.

Is there a plan, and is it the owner's plan? I'm not saying that the owner needs to be a tyrant, but the owner needs to have a vision; they need to be captaining the ship, and they need to be making sure that everybody on the team is pulling in the same direction.

So that's a big flag. I'm looking for that.

So keep an eye out for the owner failing to establish a long-term strategic direction. Is that the watch out?

Out, yeah. Yeah, so it needs to be. It needs to be written down. Everybody needs to know it, be aware of it, and have it. These need to be milestones. There must be a way to track progress, and it is the founder's responsibility to ensure that the ship is moving in the right direction and to recognize when it is being derailed by anyone within or outside the organization. and gets it back on track.

And if they're not doing it and someone else is doing it, then it's like, "Oh." That's what could be a problem.

So I get this right; I get the strategic direction. I believe you are aware that every leadership playbook will tell you that you must set the direction and show people how to get there. You've got to add timelines. You've got to, you know, rally the troops around the cause and send everybody off on their way, then empower them to do it. And I think all of our listeners, you and I included, agree. That's an effective playbook, according to George.

But here's where I have problems with the family business. This is something I frequently consider, and I know you're in Canada, so bear with me. I always think about Thanksgiving. OK, Thanksgiving is the time when I feel closest to family.

Oh yeah.

have the most difficult moment of their year, right? Because? The vision has been established by Mom or Dad. We gathered everyone at the table. Maybe there's been some mommy-and-daddy juice served. It is made of grapes and comes in bottles. Who knows, maybe some things were happening earlier in the day. We're breaking bread over a turkey now, and we're talking openly about our lives and businesses, and it's all intertwined. How do you divide it? How do you separate personal information and professional information at Thanksgiving.

That's a myth. anyone who says they can. They can compartmentalize that kind of thing. It's one thing to call your father or mother. You know them by their first names at work, so it's not Mommy or Daddy all the time and that's one thing.

But to completely compartmentalize, you must be aware of your emotional baggage that you're bringing with you from your youth. No, let's just repress everything. And anytime you repress any of those types of emotions, they're just going to spill out in different places, and you don't want that.

So you've got to be open about it. You've got to have a forum for having these conversations. I teach a course called Crucial Conversations. And where you have a technique for actually bringing those things out so that you can deal with them before they become a big problem, and it can be a constructive conversation rather than a destructive conversation, and you don't want mashed potatoes flying around the dining room table at that time,

You don't have Thanksgiving now, do you? No, that's never a good look.

What is what?

Is the turkey your favorite part of a Thanksgiving meal? What is your favorite part?

The cranberry jelly. I'm a sucker for cranberry jelly.

I love it. Well, I mean, you didn't ask, but I'll answer “stuffing” for me. I'm not sure why; I'm just an English and Irish kid who likes stuffing and potatoes.

I'm with you. Cranberry is also delicious, but it gives me carbs all the time and I'm a happy camper.

George, Let's answer This one question remains as we sort of wrap things up here. How do you leverage a family business from inside the organization? How do you lever these things up? What's the best way to go from 10 employees to 30 to 50 to 100 for those entrepreneurial minds that are taking over this organization? They want to grow, grow, grow, grow. How do they do it?

Tom, there are many, many ways.

But I think organic growth these days is challenging, especially with the money scene right now. I think the best way that I've seen it is through strategic partnerships, kind of alluding to what you were talking about earlier.

You are aware that finding other family businesses does not have to be difficult. But other businesses you can merge with, or at least partner with, that company; if you do, you can take your business to the next level, but it doesn't have to be sophisticated M&A. It doesn't have to be anything as complicated as that. It could just be, "Hey, you do this and I do this, and if we get together, we can either lower costs, serve a bigger market, or pool resources." You know those types of strategies partnerships I've seen do very well, and they can level up a business. That's something that I think is very powerful right now.

Well, I love the way you said that, and in the spirit of strategic partnerships, if folks were listening to us today and they were thinking about you, George, and how to build a strategic partnership, perhaps with all of your deep years, knowledge, and experience, how would  they do that? What is the best way to contact you? What would be the best way to communicate with you? In continuing this conversation,

Yeah, the easiest way is to visit my website,, and find me on LinkedIn. Just search for "George Kiorpelidis" and you'll find me on LinkedIn, and I know you'll put the name and the spelling of my name in there. Show notes, so I won't have to go over that

Yes, we will include you. name in the show. George Kiorpelidis, that is K.I.O.R.P.E.L.I.D.I. I pronounced it correctly twice, so I get it. I get the Golden Microphone award for nailing that.

You do.

But George, you get the Golden Microphone award for being a part of this conversation today. Your insight on families, businesses, and business overall, as well as your background in coaching and teaching, and understanding how people come to work from a behavioral standpoint, is really important.

I believe that leveraging that with all of your religious studies and the work you've done is powerful for all of us, and we are grateful to have you on the show.

Thank you so much, Tom. I appreciate being here. And hey, you want to do this again? I'm up. I'm thrilled that we'll have it.

And thank you for participating in the Talent Empowerment podcast. I hope this conversation lifted you so you can lift your teams, your organizations, and your communities. Let's get back to people and culture together. We'll see what happens next. Take care of this episode, everyone.

Take care.

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