Succession Stories: Greenwich Jewelers

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.

“Because we came out of a crisis situation, everyone was fairly open and flexible to new ideas,” Jennifer says. “When 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.”

Jennifer Gandia credits Joseph Romano of Scull and Company with making her parents’ 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 everyone’s 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.

“We were hand held through the entire process. We had all of these conversations in the Scull offices. We talked about every scenario.” Among issues that needed to be addressed: “What if I die and I’m married? Does my husband become partner of the business? What happens if somebody gets ill, or somebody wants out, or there’s a stalemate between partners and you can’t 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 wasn’t much dissension.”

Jennifer’s father was initially surprised when she said she wanted to join the business. “He asked me if I was sure more times than I could count,” she says. “When 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 wasn’t a rule, though, that she do that, it was a conversation. We sat down and talked about it and we all agreed.”

The succession was formalized in January 2010.

“We 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. There’s an open door here for them if they ever want to work part time or come in and help out. There’s always a place. But when they were done, they were like, ‘We’re done.’ My father said, ‘The business has gotten better; I’m just going to get out of their way.’”

Conveniently, Jennifer and Christina have different strengths and ability, so a division of labor came easily.

“My sister is very clearly a numbers person,” Jennifer says. “She does organization and HR and finance, and that’s so not my strong point at all. I’m marketing and merchandising and branding. We are almost like two halves of a whole.”

The biggest challenge, Jennifer has found, about working with family is that it’s difficult to keep a strictly professional demeanor 24/7 with your SISTER. “But we try really, really hard,” she says. “When we both started in the business, our parents would have us call them by their names. I never called Mom, “Mom,” at the counter. I called her Millie. We have a multi-level store and my mom didn’t want me screaming at her from downstairs, “Mom!” It doesn’t sound professional.”

Jennifer doesn’t have children yet; Christina is expecting her first. “We want them to do what they want to do,” Jennifer says. “We don’t expect any of our children to come into the business. Our parents wanted us to go out and do our hearts’ desire. We’ll give our children the same opportunity.”


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