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Behind closed doors: Family members tell us why they joined the family business

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Referance: Crain Currency


Kristina Ruotolo

For next-gen family office members, one of the biggest decisions is whether to join the family business. The process can be exciting but also emotionally fraught, full of expectations as well as the potential for disappointment. And for some, it can be an enormous comfort and a confidence booster — a sign of trust that you can carry on the family legacy.


To understand more about what goes into this decision and the challenges and opportunities inherent in joining the family business, we talked with several next-gen family members — a brother and sister who took different paths before making the leap, two brothers whose careers have mirrored each other, and an oldest child who followed her father across the Atlantic.


Cem and Mert Zorlular

Cem is the CEO and his younger brother Mert the CFO of Er-Kim Pharmaceutical, their family’s pharmaceutical company in Turkey.


What made you go into the family business?

Cem: Previously, I worked at a consulting company and then joined tech giant Palantir on the commercial side. Our decision to join the family business and return to our native Istanbul was driven by circumstance. We have a very small family, and after the death of our father, our 85-year-old grandfather decided he no longer wanted to oversee the business. And they came to me. It felt like a calling. I said I would kick myself if I didn’t do it.


Mert: My background is in finance and engineering, and I also worked at Palantir. Then Cem convinced me to move to Turkey. He had a very large scope, and many things needed to be optimized. Because of my finance background, he thought that would be ideal for me. I was not excited at first, but when he talked about his broader vision for the company, I was sold.


Cem: Since we were young children, they instilled in us this concept of needing to work together.


Mert: Eventually, we would join the company, but it was a matter of time and age. We wanted to stand on our own two feet before joining so we could be bolder when doing things, as opposed to being trained.


How is it going so far?

Cem: We want to take it from a regional company to a global company; so we are working on building that international footprint, addressing the frictions and trying to make us as nimble as possible — which can be challenging with pharmaceuticals, given the supply chain issues and regulatory issues.


Our grandfather gave the company to us, saying: “I will be here if you need mentoring, but all the mistakes are for you to make.” When he felt that we were doing something wrong, he would say he disagreed, and that allowed us to learn from it.


Any advice for next-gen members pondering the same decision?

Cem: Ask yourself: How passionate about the business are you? Because family businesses require a lot of involvement and interest. Two, do I have an area of responsibility that I am accountable for? Then, how am I going to manage my relationships with family members? How do I build that transparency and honesty, where there are egos involved? Family businesses fail when people don’t get along.


Rachel Gelb and Joshua Goldberg

The sister and brother co-workers both serve in senior roles at GYL Financial Synergies, an investment advisory firm that manages and administers $9.4 billion for prominent clients, including 5 family offices.


What made you go into the family business?

Joshua: I’ve always been interested in the markets and wealth management. And I started working at larger firms as a broker-dealer, but the mindset is a little different than the RIA space. The goals are different here. We are only for the clients, and there is a huge focus on culture and community, which is more aligned with my goals and objectives.


Rachel: My background is actually in human resources. I worked at a hospital in their retirement section, but only for one year. Coming here, I felt a sense of ownership. It was exciting to work together and work on creating the best place to work and have a tremendous impact on the community.


It’s helpful that we gained experience at other places that we could bring with us. I think it was very good to spend some time not with family. I was originally more reluctant to go down that route because you want to make your own way in the world.


Did you have any doubts or concerns before taking that step?

Rachel: Definitely. We all hear these horror stories about joining a family business. For myself, it’s only enhanced our relationship to see my father and brother doing really well.


Joshua: Our father is very driven and successful, and there was definitely a little bit of concern that maybe not all the personalities would match. What would this do to our relationships going forward? Fortunately, it’s been great. I call him by his first name in the office. We’re not always 100% overlapping in what we do day to day, and we’re more family-oriented on the weekends. Hey, we’re still talking!


Do you have a succession plan in place?

Joshua: We have 14 partners in place, I’m the most recent one, and there are a lot of redundancies in the roles. It’s really important to have that in place, to be part of the succession. We plan on being here for the duration. I want it to be the firm of the future, not just today, to build a legacy.


Celine Winter

The 24-year-old is the director of business development at W5 Group, the family office of her global real estate entrepreneur father, Ralph Winter.


What made you go into the family business?

What happened was he couldn’t really retire. When he moved to Miami in 2014, he thought he could start all over, but the business followed him. When COVID hit, I was stuck in Switzerland and decided to get my master’s degree in sustainability at the University of Miami. I started to work at my favorite coffee shop, Pura Vida, where I created a sustainability strategy. I knew the owner, and I knew that he wanted to become more sustainable. For example, with sustainable sourcing, we stopped using plastic straws, used recycled bags and got involved in community efforts.


But I needed a job, so I got more involved at my father’s office. Started attending meetings. And at one point, my Dad said, “Maybe we should set up a contract, and you could do what you did before — sustainability consulting — for our business?”


And I thought, I can do this. I grew up around the business since I was a little girl and hearing my Dad conduct meetings.


And how is it going?

I tried to combine the thing that I love with my family legacy as next-gen. I felt that was the way to go. At the beginning, I thought it would be hard. My father is not always an easy man to work with. But to be honest, it’s been great. I have much younger siblings, and I want to make them proud of the company, for them to step in someday.


We started to invest in co-living residential developments, where there are four bedrooms that share a common area. Every building has some kind of sustainability certification, LEED-certified. We are developing rental apartments that will be reduced in price for people with disabilities and also getting into student housing.


Of course I had concerns in the beginning. Real estate is a very old, white-collar business run by men over the age of 60. But my dad put me on my own from the beginning, pushed me in the cold water, pushed me to go to conferences. It’s a journey.

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