SHE SAYS:

             When I finally did agree to join Joe, at first it was part-time.  I got approval to work part-time at my job, so that just in case it didn’t work out at USFSB, I would be able to go back.  During the first few months, Joe asked me to work with each employee to evaluate their job duties and assess their efforts.  Of course, the employees did not like the scrutiny.  I was respectful of their feelings, but I was met with so much animosity  that it made it difficult for me to fit in to some aspects of the daily office routine.

             Joe established his position with the employees easily, but by the time I arrived, I was met with some resistance, which did not make it easy for me to adjust or enjoy being there.  I believe, at first, the employees just assumed that I wouldn’t stay.  Maybe, they didn’t even believe that Joe would stay, but who knows.  I think they just thought, “Oh, well, Joe’s wife is here for a while”.  In addition, as Joe said, he was used to running his office as a ‘dictatorship’ and I was used to a large office where consensus was a usual process.  This was going to be a challenge!

             Challenge or not I believe that the reason we can work together successfully can be summed up in a few words.  While we both have common goals, we approach them differently because of our unique and sometimes opposite personalities.  Joe may win most of the debates, but maybe that comes with the territory of having been a successful attorney!   Can I ever win??

             Despite the resistance from the employees, I soon became involved with one of our large vendor programs and liked the idea of the marketing I could do on behalf of USFSB by traveling to their field offices and train them on our program.  This part of my job became very appealing to me.   Within a few months, I got approval for a leave of absence for one year from my job and I came to USFSB full-time to run this program.   

            Eventually, I was doing quite a bit of traveling, training, and meeting with corporate executives.   I liked what I was doing, but I still tried to be independent of the office and the staff.  As I established my own ‘territory’ in the office, it became easier and I began to enjoy my new career.   I isolated myself from the insurance side of USFSB and became less and less involved with the employees.   This would later change, but at the time, it worked for all of us. 

             In terms of the office dynamics, I still was part of the staff and when we met, weekly, on different programs, Joe and I, on occasion, would have different ideas on how to approach the vendor program.    Although, I became the face of USFSB at these field offices, Joe orchestrated our moves with them and, sometimes, I resented it.   Neither of us had much experience dealing with the large corporate world, but I was the one meeting with them and I felt I had a better perspective than Joe when it came to some of the decision making.   That is not to say his decisions were bad.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I was somewhat taken aback when Annemarie exhibited some reluctance to leave her career to come to USFSB.  At the time, all I could see was that USFSB provided a great opportunity for financial security to our family and I could not imagine that anything would be more important.

In hindsight, I can understand that this was a lot for her to take in all at once and it would be a difficult decision for her to make a career change and come to a business she still did not know very well.   After all, I came to USFSB out of necessity in order to help my brother and it only gradually became a career changing opportunity for me.

After much discussion, possibly, heated, at times, Annemarie agreed to come to work at USFSB.   Even then, by way of compromise, she first came to USFSB on a part time basis and was able to also maintain her public employment part time.   This proved to be unsatisfactory, at least, for me and we worked out a further compromise where she would take a leave of absence from her employment while she worked, full time, at USFSB.   I guess you could say that Annemarie did not want to burn her bridges behind her in case working with me at USFSB proved to be a bad idea.

As soon as she started, I could see that it was going to be a difficult transition for Annemarie.   Working and interacting in a small business is vastly different than working in a very large office with its layers of bureaucracy, compartmentalized duties and responsibilities, and many more social opportunities.

When you are operating a small business, you become responsible for everything, you are in charge and no longer just part of a team which means that you need to lead rather than follow.    Even though challenging, it can also be unnerving and uncomfortable if you are not used to the idea of working without the safety net of being just a small part of a large office.   It is a little scary when yours is the only vision for the future.

Come back on Friday to hear Annemarie’s side of the story!

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

When Joe started working at USFSB in 1995, it was because his brother was ill.  That alone had quite an impact on our young family.  The hours he worked between his law practice and USFSB and the time he and all of us spent with his brother became stressful at times.   Added to that, I was also working at my full-time job.  I did not begrudge the time we spent with his brother and, in fact, thought it was important to be part of the medical care and decisions.

On one hand, we wanted our children to spend a lot of time with their uncle, but we, also, had to be careful not to expose them to too much or make it too depressing for them.  The illness and the time we each spent dealing with his care, dealing with his father, our children and their activities all took a toll on our family that we probably didn’t realize as we were living it.  Our children were very cooperative, but looking back, I think, although, it was all a life experience, it was hard for all of us.

After it was all over and Joe began his career change at USFSB, it was hard for me to feel like I should become part of it.  In some ways, it was one of the stresses we dealt with for so long that even though Joe was growing the business and I could see the potential benefits for our family, it had somewhat of a negative impact on me, especially in the light of becoming an owner/employee there.  It was just so different than anything I was used to and I didn’t think I had much interest in working there.  Plus, we had never worked together before and it just didn’t seem ‘right’.

As I mentioned before, after college, I spent 20 years working in a large office of 20-30 people.  I always worked as part of a research team conducting environmental health studies and I also had experience in human resources.   Many of the employees were members of unions and there were very specific rules and regulations to keep track of as well as the rights and well-being of the employees.  In our particular office, there were also a number of professional including physicians and doctorate level epidemiologists.   I enjoyed working in this type of professional atmosphere and learned a great deal during my time there.

When Joe asked me to join him at USFSB, I was reluctant to leave a career that I enjoyed to go to such a small office.   That, in itself was an adjustment.  I went from interacting on many levels in the diversity of a large group of people to a very small group of people that were very single-minded and, in my view, did not work very hard.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

My first year at USFSB was spent learning the business as best I could while still maintaining my law office full time.   In reality, I was just “babysitting” the business, since it was not my intention to change careers and give up my law office.    Also, early on, I was hopeful that my brother would recover and come back to USFSB.

Even when it became clear that my brother would not be coming back, I was still not prepared to make USFSB my new career.   I realized that I would need to keep USFSB going if, for no other reason, then to have the money to pay for my brother’s round the clock care and to provide for my father who also was dependant on the business to supplement his income.

I inherited the business in June of 1996 when my brother passed away.   My brother had no other family than my father and me and, by pre-arrangement, it was decided that it would be better if I inherited and operated the business.   Even then, I was not convinced that I was going to make a career out of operating USFSB and I, certainly, did not believe that I would stop practicing law.

As the year progressed, I become more and more interested in USFSB as I learned more about the business and I started to realize the full potential of USFSB for the future. It was then that I made the decision to slow down my law practice and make a real effort to find ways to grow USFSB.   I was slowly making a career change even though I did not fully recognize that fact at the time.

Over the next two years, I became more and more knowledgeable about USFSB’s benefit programs and insurance products and began to feel more comfortable and confident in my operation of USFSB.   I was able to enhance some of our benefit programs and USFSB started to experience real growth.

In 1998, I felt I needed someone I could completely rely on and asked my wife Annemarie to leave her long-standing position in public service to come to USFSB.   Soon after she came to work at USFSB, we both realized that there would be many adjustments and compromises that we would need to make if we were going to successfully live and work together without the need of a good divorce attorney.

I have always run my business as more of a dictatorship than as a democracy.  Even though I will ask for the opinions of others, for better or worse, I make most of the decisions based on what I believe is the best course of action.   This, of course, can and does create conflicts between Annemarie and me and has shown us that there are many perils and pitfalls in running a small family business.

Come back on Friday to hear Annemarie’s side of the story!

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

Joe and Annemarie Cardamone have been married for 33 years and have four children, Matthew (30), Michael (30), Joseph (27), and Julia (22).

Since many of our members are small family run businesses, we want to share our experiences as a husband and wife working together in a small business.

How we have learned to succeed in our small family business despite the many adjustments, compromises, perils, and pitfalls encountered as we work together is our story.

Joe, as an attorney and small business owner, offers information on business and legal topics of interest to small businesses.

Joe and Annemarie also share their life experiences and opinions on many different business, political and social issues.

HE SAYS:

This is how I have learned to successfully run a small family business.   But, first, a little background information.

I practiced law for over 20 years and for most of that time I ran my own office as a self-employed attorney.   During my years in the law business, I became used to making all of the decisions and not having to answer to anyone else about how to run my business.    Even though my law practice provided many benefits for my family, none of my children appeared destined to become attorneys, thus, my law practice was not and, probably, never would be a family business.

In 1995 when my brother, who had been one of the founders of USFSB, became ill I stepped in to keep the business going for him.  When he passed away in 1996, I acquired USFSB and found myself the owner/operator of a small business with seven full time employees.  I took from my experiences running my law business and  operated USFSB as the primary  decision maker.

SHE SAYS:

This is how I have survived running a small family business.   But, first, a little background information.

After college, I spent 20 years working in a large office of 20-30 people who worked in a variety of different positions ranging from data entry operators, to clerical staff, to administrators, to upper management and professionals.  I started working there before Joe and I were married and continued while Joe was practicing law.  I stayed in that job during the years each of our children was born, taking maternity leave for several months each time.  It was the type of position that allowed me to work a set number of hours each day and I was able to have a somewhat flexible schedule at times when I needed it.

I was energetic and made time to be involved with many of our children’s activities.  While Matthew, Michael and Joseph were in elementary school, I was quite active with PTA, including a two year term as President.  I was assistant den mother for Matthew and Michael’s Cub Scout troop and den mother for Joseph.

Over the years, while Joe coached Matthew and Michael in baseball and Joseph in soccer, I managed the teams for him.  When Joe coached Julia in soccer, I also managed her team.   Even when the boys and, eventually, Julia reached more advanced levels where more experienced coaches were necessary, I remained involved in helping to manage team activities.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?