Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

0956 Running a Family-Owned Business

访问量:
Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 956 – Running a Family-Owned Business.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 956. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there. Become a member. Download a Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a story about someone who manages, or runs, a business owned by members of his family. Let’s get started.

[start of story]

When I took over the family business three years ago, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. My uncle, who ran the business before me, established a clear chain of command, which I thought would eliminate infighting and bickering. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Despite clear lines of authority, family members tend to take sides and play the blame game whenever anything goes wrong. In the end, they always look to me to resolve conflict, and I have no choice but to enter the fray.

Another big problem is the hangers-on. Those are the family members who aren’t suited for this line of work, but who need jobs. What do I DO with them?

What do you do when everything falls on your shoulders? Well, I’ve developed a thick skin, and when someone inevitably reminds me that blood is thicker than water, I remind them that business is business.

[end of story]

I begin our story by saying, “When I took over the family business.” “To take over” means to take control of, to take ownership of – to become the person who runs and manages an organization or, in this case, a company. “The family business” just means a business, a company, that your family owns. I say that I “took over the family business three years ago.”

But, I say, “I didn't know what I was letting myself in for.” The expression “to let yourself in for” something means to put yourself in a difficult or challenging situation without realizing it, without knowing it. We might say “unintentionally.” I didn't realize I was going to be putting myself into such a difficult situation when I took over the family business three years ago.

I said, “My uncle, who ran the business before me, established a clear chain of command.” A “chain (chain) of command” is the structure in an organization that determines who is responsible to whom, or who reports to whom. In other words, I have a boss, and my boss has a boss, and my boss’s boss has a boss. The chain of command goes from me, to my boss, to my boss’s boss, to my boss’s boss’s boss, if that isn't too confusing. That's a “chain of command.”

We also talk about a chain of command in the military – in the army, for example. At the top of the chain of command, at least in the United States, is the “commander in chief.” That's the president of the United States. He gives orders to the general, who is head of the army, and the general gives orders to the colonel, who gives orders to the major, who gives orders to the captain, who gives orders to the lieutenant, who gives orders to the sergeant, who gives orders to the corporal, who gives orders to the private. That's the chain of command. That's who reports to whom, in the army anyway.

In a company, usually there is a CEO and perhaps a president, then you have a vice president, and under the vice president you have other company bosses, company officials. There is a chain of command. A “clear chain of command” is one that everyone knows and understands. In the army, there's a very clear chain of command. In companies there is usually a clear chain of command that everyone knows about, but not always.

However, in the case of our family-owned business, even though there is a clear chain of command, that does not “eliminate infighting and bickering.” “To eliminate” (eliminate) means to get rid of something, to not have something anymore. “Infighting” (infighting) is fighting within a group or within an organization, within a family. “Infighting” relates to conflicts or disagreements that people have in a group, usually a small group such as a family. “Bickering” (bickering) comes from the verb “to bicker” (bicker). “To bicker” means to disagree, to argue, to fight – but using words, not your fists or a weapon.

I say, “I couldn't have been more wrong.” I thought the chain of command would eliminate infighting and bickering, but I was wrong. That's what I mean by the expression, “I couldn't have been more wrong.” I was very wrong. I say, “Despite clear lines of authority, family members tend to take sides.” “Clear lines of authority” is similar to a “clear chain of command.” It's really the same thing. Even though we have clear lines of authority in the company, “family members still tend to take sides.” “Tend to” means they often or typically do something. Here, what they do is take sides.

“To take sides” means to show who you are in favor of and who you are against – who you support and who you oppose. I think what the story is saying here is that even though there are clear lines of authority, people don't follow them. People don't respect the authority of the people above them, perhaps. Instead, they do what happens in most families, in most large families, anyway: they take sides. They decide that John is right and Mary is wrong, and so whenever there's a disagreement between John and Mary, they're going to “side with” John. They're going to “take John's side,” we could say. They are going to support John.

I say family members also “play the blame game whenever anything goes wrong.” “To play the blame (blame) game” means to say that you are not responsible for anything that goes wrong. “It's not my fault – it's her fault,” or “It's his fault.” You never take responsibility for things that go wrong. “To blame” someone means to tell them that they did something wrong. They are responsible for something bad that happened.

“In the end,” I say, meaning after all of these disagreements and all of this bickering, “they,” meaning my family members, “always look to me to resolve conflict.” “To look to” someone means to go to someone expecting he or she will solve your problem or will take care of whatever is wrong. “To look to” someone means not to take responsibility yourself, not to make the decision yourself, but to expect someone else to do it. My family looks to me to resolve conflict. “To resolve conflict” (conflict) means to find a way to end an argument, to end a disagreement.

I say, “I have no choice” – I have no option – “but to enter the fray.” “To enter the fray” (fray) means to participate or join an argument. Another problem I have in the story is “hangers-on.” A “hanger (hanger) - on (on)” is a person who joins a group so they can get the benefits of that group, but doesn't actually do anything – often doesn't do the work they're supposed to do. In this case, it would be family members who have jobs in the company but don't work very much.

I say these hangers-on are “the family members who aren’t suited for this line of work.” “To be suited” (suited) means to have the qualifications for something, to be prepared for something. A “line of work” is a kind of work, a type of job. My family members who aren't suited for this line of work – whatever the family business is – still need jobs, and I don't know what to do with them. I say, “What do you do when everything falls on your shoulders?” “To fall on your shoulders” means to be your responsibility, especially when it is a difficult or challenging situation.

I say, “I've developed a thick skin.” The term “thick skin” means the ability to not be affected negatively by bad things that are happening, especially when things are said about you – when people criticize you, when they say bad things about you. “To have a thick skin” means not to be affected by that – to say, “Oh, whatever. I don't care.” The opposite of a “thick skin” would be “thin skin.” If someone says I have “thin skin,” they mean I am easily affected by criticisms. When someone says something bad about me, I feel hurt.

I say, to conclude our story, “When someone inevitably reminds me that blood is thicker than water, I remind them that business is business.” “Inevitability” means unavoidably – something that will almost certainly happen. Someone always reminds me of an old expression in English, which is “blood is thicker than water.” The meaning of that expression is that family relationships are stronger and more important than other relationships, such as friendships. The blood that you share with your family members is thicker, and therefore stronger, than the water, if you will, that you share with your friends.

In other words, your family relationships are more important and should be stronger than your relationships with your friends. If you have to choose between your family and your friends, you should choose your family. When someone tells me this, meaning that I should look out for, or be protective of, or loyal to my family, I remind that person that “businesses is business.” This is another expression we use in American English. “Business is business” means that we need to make decisions in the company that are good for the company. Good for the business – not good for, in this case, the family members.

The expression “businesses is business” is usually used in cases where someone is saying that a business should make a decision based upon some personal reason or some reason that has nothing to do with the economic well-being of the company. “Is this going to help the company or hurt the company?” That's what we're trying to say in the expression “business is business.”

People might also say in this situation, “I don't want to mix personal things with business” or “I don't want to mix family with business.” They mean they want to make their business decisions based upon the things that are important for the business, not for one's family or friends.

Now let’s listen to the story, this time at a normal speed.

[start of story]

When I took over the family business three years ago, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. My uncle, who ran the business before me, established a clear chain of command, which I thought would eliminate infighting and bickering. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Despite clear lines of authority, family members tend to take sides and play the blame game whenever anything goes wrong. In the end, they always look to me to resolve conflict, and I have no choice but to enter the fray.

Another big problem is the hangers-on. Those are the family members who aren’t suited for this line of work, but who need jobs. What do I do with them?

What do you do when everything falls on your shoulders? Well, I’ve developed a thick skin, and when someone inevitably reminds me that blood is thicker than water, I remind them that business is business.

[end of story]

Our scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse, is definitely suited for her line of work – scriptwriting.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to let (oneself) in for – to unintentionally or unknowingly put oneself in a difficult, challenging, or unpleasant situation

* Gregorio should have known he was letting himself in for trouble when he married a woman whom he’d only known for a month.

clear chain of command – a formal hierarchy; a reporting structure within an organization that clarifies who reports to whom, and who is responsible for other employees’ performance

* The military’s success depends on having a clear chain of command that everyone understands and follows.

to eliminate – to get rid of something; to not have something

* Louise has eliminated all sugar, salt, and artificial flavors from the food she cooks and eats.

infighting – internal conflict; disagreements within an organization, family, or group

* The rebellion might have been successful if there hadn’t been so much infighting among the leaders.

to bicker – to disagree and argue; to quarrel; to fight with words

* What can we do to make our kids stop bickering?

clear lines of authority – a formal hierarchy; a reporting structure within an organization that clarifies who reports to whom, and who is responsible for other employees’ performance

* To improve internal communication, the company hired a new COO and established clear lines of authority.

to take sides – to clearly show that one is for or against something, supporting one group of people and disagreeing with others

* Why do you automatically take sides with your daughter, and never your son?

to play the blame game – to argue that a problem or difficulty is the fault of another person, not one’s own fault; to believe that someone else is responsible for a difficult or uncomfortable situation

* Mistakes have been made, but it won’t help to play the blame game. Let’s look for solutions instead.

to resolve conflict – to find a constructive way to end an argument or disagreement

* When Ms. Lee started her first teaching job, she never realized how much of her work would involve resolving conflicts among the students.

to enter the fray – to join an argument or fight

* Zoey hates arguing with other people, so she’s doing everything possible to avoid entering the fray.

hanger-on – a person who joins a group or spends time with another person because he or she receives some personal or financial benefit from it

* Celebrities are surrounded by hangers-on who think they’ll find a way to become rich and famous themselves.

suited – with the characteristics and qualifications that make one well-prepared for something and likely to do it well

* Kelly loves math and has an analytical mind, so he seems suited for a job in finance.

to fall on (one’s) shoulders – to become one’s responsibility, especially when something is difficult or challenging

* When Jackie’s sister and brother-in-law died unexpectedly, raising their kids fell on her shoulders.

thick skin – the ability to not be affected negatively by unpleasant or challenging things that happen, especially negative things that are said about one

* Politicians need to have a thick skin, or else they’d spend all their time worrying about what reporters and voters were saying about them.

inevitably – unavoidably; certain to happen

* There will inevitably be difficult times in any marriage, but the key is to work through them together.

blood is thicker than water – a phrase used to mean that family relationships are stronger and more important than any other relationships

* Lola is certain that her aunt will help her, because blood is thicker than water.

business is business – a phrase used to mean that business decisions are made on the basis of what is best for the company and what will make the most money, without considering people’s feelings or emotions

* It will be uncomfortable to fire Ingrid, but it’s what’s best for the company, and business is business.

Comprehension Questions
1. Why does he need to resolve conflict?
a) Because there is a clear chain of command.
b) Because there is a lot of infighting and bickering.
c) Because he doesn’t want to play the blame game.

2. What does he mean when he says, “I’ve developed a thick skin”?
a) He has worked very hard for the company.
b) He isn’t bothered by what other people say.
c) He has become stronger by overcoming challenges.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to take sides

The phrase “to take sides,” in this podcast, means to clearly show that one is for or against something, aligning with one group of people and disagreeing with others: “A good counselor knows how to listen to clients without taking sides.” The phrase “(someone’s) side of the story” refers to one person’s interpretation or understanding of a situation: “Don’t you want to hear my side of the story before you decide who’s responsible for the problem?” The phrase “to be on (someone’s) side” means to support someone: “No matter what happens, your family will always be on your side.” Finally, the phrase “look on the bright side” means to be optimistic and see the positive aspects of a situation: “I’m sorry you lost your job, but look on the bright side. Now you’ll be able to spend more time with your kids.”

suited

In this podcast, the word “suited” means with the characteristics and qualifications that make one well-prepared for something and likely to do it well: “Small cars aren’t well suited for driving over this rocky road.” The phrase “(someone’s) strong suit” describes something that one does well: “Numbers have never been his strong suit, but he’s an excellent writer.” The phrase “to follow suit” means to do the same thing as others are doing: “If our competitors lower prices, we’ll have to follow suit.” When talking about clothing, a “suit” is formal clothing normally worn by business professionals: “All applicants are expected to wear a suit to the interview.” Finally, the phrase “in (one’s) birthday suit” means naked, without wearing any clothing: “Do you ever walk around your house in your birthday suit?”

Culture Note
The Oldest Family-Owned Business in the U.S.

According to the School of Business Administration at the University of Vermont, the average “life span” (how long something survives) of a family-owned business in the United States is 24 years. “Succession” (passing a business to a new leader and a new generation) is difficult, and only about 40% of family-owned businesses are successfully transferred to the second “generation” (a group of people born around the same time). That figure drops to 13% and 3% for the third and fourth generations.

However, some family-owned businesses have greater “longevity” (how long someone lives or how long something exists). For example, Wente Vineyards in California is one of the oldest “wineries” (a business that makes wine) in the United States, having reached its 130th “anniversary” (the date when something happened in an earlier year) in February 2013, with fourth- and fifth-generation employees.

It is difficult to determine which family-owned businesses are the oldest, since definitions of “family-owned” business can “vary” (are different). Researchers also disagree on how to “handle” (treat; consider) companies that have moved. For example, Zildjian Cymbal, a manufacturer of “percussion instruments” (drums and related instruments) was founded in Turkey in 1623, but it has been operating from Massachusetts since 1929.

The John Stevens Shop in Rhode Island is clearly one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the United States. The Shop has been in the business of making “gravestones” (stone markers with lettering used to show where a body is buried) since 1705.

Levi Strauss & Co. is a much larger company, which became famous for making “denim” (the fabric used for jeans) clothing during the “California gold rush” (the period of time when many people went to California to look for gold) in 1849.

Comprehension Answers
1 -b

2 - b