Succession Stories: Greenwich Jewelers
When Jennifer Gandia first joined the family business, her parents, Cal and Milly Gandia, thought some of her ideas were crazy.
Jennifer came from a marketing background, and so naturally wanted to get the business online, including the handwritten inventory books. Once her parents saw how it worked, they quickly came around.
They also were feeling a little desperate in the years after 9/11, since their Wall Street neighborhood was in a state of despair and upheaval. It was a tough time, but on the other hand, it paved the way for modernization.
âBecause we came out of a crisis situation, everyone was fairly open and flexible to new ideas,â Jennifer says. âWhen I started, my parents were open 8 to 5 Monday through Friday because we were near Wall Street. When I came up with the idea of opening on Saturdays my father acted like I was nuts. But they tried it and within two months, Saturdays was one of our best days of the week.â
Jennifer Gandia credits Joseph Romano of Scull and Company with making her parentsâ retirement last June go smoothly. She and her younger sister, Christina Gandia Gambale, are now partners in the business. The process took place over at least seven years, with Scull and Company advising them all along the way on questions of how it would happen and when, and how the transition could satisfy everyoneâs goals. What was negotiable for each principal, and what was definitely not.
Having a consultant that made them see the value of good, clear, open communication was the best decision they could have made, Jennifer says.
âWe were hand held through the entire process. We had all of these conversations in the Scull offices. We talked about every scenario.â Among issues that needed to be addressed: âWhat if I die and Iâm married? Does my husband become partner of the business? What happens if somebody gets ill, or somebody wants out, or thereâs a stalemate between partners and you canât come to a decision? We had to have every conversation. And it can be difficult to talk about. But we were all pretty much on the same page in terms of how the business should be run. There wasnât much dissension.â
Jenniferâs father was initially surprised when she said she wanted to join the business. âHe asked me if I was sure more times than I could count,â she says. âWhen my sister decided to join, she was out of school only for about six months. We talked about what she could bring to the table. She offered to go to GIA and she got a job with Temple St. Clair for a year; and when we all felt the time was right, she joined. It wasnât a rule, though, that she do that, it was a conversation. We sat down and talked about it and we all agreed.â
The succession was formalized in January 2010.
âWe were operating as owners for about a year before then, and my parents were in more of a support role; my father was doing benchwork. Everything was gradual. Thereâs an open door here for them if they ever want to work part time or come in and help out. Thereâs always a place. But when they were done, they were like, âWeâre done.â My father said, âThe business has gotten better; Iâm just going to get out of their way.ââ
Conveniently, Jennifer and Christina have different strengths and ability, so a division of labor came easily.
âMy sister is very clearly a numbers person,â Jennifer says. âShe does organization and HR and finance, and thatâs so not my strong point at all. Iâm marketing and merchandising and branding. We are almost like two halves of a whole.â
The biggest challenge, Jennifer has found, about working with family is that itâs difficult to keep a strictly professional demeanor 24/7 with your SISTER. âBut we try really, really hard,â she says. âWhen we both started in the business, our parents would have us call them by their names. I never called Mom, âMom,â at the counter. I called her Millie. We have a multi-level store and my mom didnât want me screaming at her from downstairs, âMom!â It doesnât sound professional.â
Jennifer doesnât have children yet; Christina is expecting her first. âWe want them to do what they want to do,â Jennifer says. âWe donât expect any of our children to come into the business. Our parents wanted us to go out and do our heartsâ desire. Weâll give our children the same opportunity.â