Focus on the common goals you share. Again, often times my father, brother and I will have differing opinions about how something should be done or how something should look or how to handle a situation. Regardless of the differences, we are united by the common goal to advance our business and maintain our solid reputation. We’re all working towards the same end, so therefore we can be open to alternative ways of getting there.
As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Graziano.
Jen has carried her family’s legacy into the 4th generation. A fixture at the funeral home since her early years, she has embraced the call to service and has taken her work outside the confines of the funeral home into the community at large. She understands the delicate balance of providing dignity and service to the deceased while comforting and caring for the living. She is a frequent lecturer and panelist discussing senior issues in the community. She is the host of a weekly radio program on WVOX, “Time to Talk” focusing on sensitive issues of advanced planning and the creator of “Coming of Age Magazine”, which further touches on those issues. She’s recently created a line of memorial jewelry, RememBar, which allows you to carry the ones you love with you wherever you go.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m a 4th generation funeral director who began working with my father at a young age. I’ve witnessed substantial changes to the way people handle death and arrange funerals. Among the trends has been the rise of cremation. At the same time, I recognized the void for a quality selection of keepsake jewelry as an alternative to traditional urns. Thus, my idea for RememBar was born.
Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?
My family has been involved in funeral service for 4 generations. Our approach was always to provide the highest level of service to a family while anticipating every possible need they may have. I’ve served various roles at the funeral home over the years. My primary focus is sitting down with family members to arrange a memorable and meaningful tribute for the one they’ve lost.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
Every career path is marked by stories you’ve heard along the way. I wouldn’t even know where to begin in recounting interesting stories I’ve heard over the years. I’m always struck by the love stories. The stories of people who shared 50, 60 and 70 years together and who’s marriages withstood the tests of time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I recall making bookkeeping mistakes early on, thus I learned to delegate where necessary. I also learned the importance of developing organized checklists of the tasks that need to be completed upon each new family calling the funeral home. There is so much to be done following the initial call for service. It’s easy to skip a step unless you are operating under a methodical system.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our funeral home is known for personal service. The bonds we form with a family remain long after the funeral is over. From my father, I learned that you never forget a family. This is not work that you leave behind when you walk out the door, the tears and the faces stay with you. My father always liked to remember families we served at Christmas time. The morning of Christmas Eve, he would take me with him to visit families and bring a box of candy. We would sit at their tables, enjoy homemade cookies share laughs and listen to their stories. Those families never forgot those visits, nor did I. I recall them fondly and they serve as a reminder that we are intertwined in the lives of those we served. When you walk alongside people during their most difficult days, you develop a bond with them that is both indescribable and indestructible.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Growth and change are part of any industry. You’ll never achieve success by solely sticking to what you knew or what traditionally worked. I’m thrilled about the line of memorial keepsake jewelry, RememBar. This aesthetically beautiful collection of jewelry is designed to hold a lock of hair, portion of cremated remains or scent of favorite perfumer of the deceased. The goal is to provide comfort when it is needed the most. Wearing the jewelry serves as a poignant reminder that love lives on, death only marks a physical separation. I strongly believe in the comfort and healing value of this jewelry line.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m so deeply grateful for the love and support always given by my mother and father. I attribute all I know about the funeral industry to my father, who I still hold as “the master” of his craft. I learned from him that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching and also, you must always be able to rest your head on a pillow at night knowing you did the right thing. My mother was instrumental in encouraging my vision to create the jewelry line. She loved the idea and weighed in heavily on the design of the pieces. I ultimately attribute my decision to create the collection to my daughter. I truly believe when you are a mother, all eyes are on you. I could never truly teach her to live in pursuit of your dreams if I didn’t follow through on my own. I wanted to show her anything is possible if you are committed and willing to do whatever it takes to make your visions into reality.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m using my platform in the death care industry to provide comfort and healing to those who grieve. I have a unique perspective on the aftermath of loss and how people process their pain following a death. I’m hoping the line of jewelry I created will provide a tangible comfort that can help people work through their grief. I’m hoping the reminder that love lives on will give people the courage and strength to face the world and keep going in the aftermath of loss.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?
There are so many nuances to a family business that distinguish it from “business as usual”. When dealing with co-workers, frustrations can often mount, ideas can clash or there can be the presence of office politics. All of those apply when dealing with family, however, you must be consciously aware of protecting the family bond. You have to operate with a heightened degree of patience and respect for one another and try to avoid blurring the lines between family and co-worker. For me, it is always family first. Disputes or differing ideas in the office can not make their way into the home. I think there is an added pressure in the workplace when it is occupied by family members. However, I see so many positives when you work with those you love. There is a protective nature, whereas you are looking out for one another in ways that mere co-workers never could be able. There is also something comforting about being surrounded by those closest to you day in and day out. I think it ultimately strengthens the family bond, if you operate with a healthy respect for one another.
In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family owned businesses have?
Family owned businesses answer to themselves, each other and the principles that guide them rather than investors. We do what we feel is right and being from the same family, we share a similar set of ideals. While it expected that everyone has their unique perspectives or approaches to doing business, it is usually the case that a family shares similar values and thus can unite in making decisions.
What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family owned businesses have?
You are very protective of your family and the business itself, sometimes that can blind you towards constructive criticism. In addition, you’re never “off” from a family business. You must always try to be readily available for whatever is needed.
What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?
I think families avoid uncomfortable conversations and therefore fail to make a long term plan. Finances, succession planning, “what if” scenarios are hard to envision but necessary for the long term success and stability of a business.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?
In a family business, employees can easily be discouraged by the impression of a “glass ceiling”. They may feel upward advancement is impossible so long as the family is at the helm of the ship. It is so important to take care of your employees and create an atmosphere of an extended family.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?
Leadership, to me, is setting the standard by which others strive to meet. Leadership is doing what is right, regardless if its easy or popular. I believe you lead by example. You can’t ask others to do that which you, yourself, won’t do. Leadership is keeping your team calm, focused, and working towards a common goal. Being a leader means bearing the brunt of decision making and the additional weight of responsibilities and it is not a skill that anyone and everyone is born with.
Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Patience…it is truly a virtue. As I indicated, oftentimes the lines become blurred between family and coworkers. It is important to keep the family relationship paramount. Tensions often mount in family business situations, taking a step back is key to help you proceed in a calm, cool and collected manner. Nothing is work destroying the family relationship over. I work alongside my father and brother. There are many issues where we have differing opinions and are each passionate about our own. You have to have a healthy respect for your family members. That will ultimately enable you to move past your differences.
- Keep work out of home as best you can. It is easy to “talk shop” when you are sitting at the dinner table but it’s important to make room for other topic of conversation. When we gather as a family with everyone at the table, we try to focus on things non-work related, such as watching our kids play together and enjoy each other.
- Keep home out of work. Yes, the alternative is true. If you are upset or annoyed with a family member you work with, you must move forward in the workspace without bias or animosity. It is not easy to compartmentalize feelings, however, in order to have a productive workplace you must sometimes check your feelings at the door.
- Respect boundaries. Time away from the office is sacred. Respect that your family can’t be available to you at all times and respect everyone’s individual and personal responsibilities that exist outside the workplace.
- Focus on the common goals you share. Again, often times my father, brother and I will have differing opinions about how something should be done or how something should look or how to handle a situation. Regardless of the differences, we are united by the common goal to advance our business and maintain our solid reputation. We’re all working towards the same end, so therefore we can be open to alternative ways of getting there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My father always told me, “this too shall pass”. Simple words yet they’ve carried me through so many times. Every time you walk through darkness, angst, suffering, pain, it seems insurmountable and as if it will never end. But knowing that everything is temporary, every pain shall pass, is a comfort.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to sit down with anyone from Shark Tank, however, I’m confident in this product and it’s potential, so not sure if I’d be willing to share 😊
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire anyone or generate any type of inspiration, I would focus on our youth. I feel our youth has collectively lost drive and focus. The world is too convenient. If you have to work for it, you don’t want it. This is a grave danger that is afflicting our youth. I’d like to communicate the importance of hard work to today’s teenagers. Life is not supposed to be easy and no one ever claimed it would be. I’d like to inspire youth to push themselves to their limits and work to work fearlessly in pursuit of their goals.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I post on my Instagram page daily, @shopremembar and there, I like to create posts that showcase my personality and style. I also like to inspire followers through uplifting quotes and messages. I also post frequently on @coxegraziano
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.