Crain's Chicago Business feature on Siblings in Business

Crain's Chicago Business feature on Siblings in Business

Is going into business with your brother or sister a brilliant idea or a disaster in waiting?

Lesson No. 3: Clear up lingering issues before taking the leap

Sisters Annie, from left, Clare and Mary Duggan and their Lifestinks line of natural deodorants, bath salts and bug repellent. Photo: Kendall Karmanian


FAMILY DYNAMIC: After Mary and Annie each suffered extended illnesses, they decided to open an in-home healing center featuring health care consulting, reiki and massage. Two years later, they shifted gears to launch Lifestinks deodorant, which they still produce (along with the rest of the product line) in the basement of their Beverly home. In 2010, Clare returned from a 14-year stint as a marketing consultant in the Netherlands to join the company as CEO.

WHY IT WORKS: "Your ethics are constantly challenged in (the beauty) industry," says Mary, the company's president. (Annie is chief operating officer.) "We have certain shared values and we know where the line is that we won't cross. We'll fight to the death over the business, but we never, ever fight as sisters. We spend a tremendous amount of time resolving conflict, what we call the 'return to good feeling,' before we move on."

WORDS OF WISDOM: "Clean up any issues before you go into business together," Mary says. "You need a rock-solid relationship as friends. It's like a marriage. Anything that is unresolved will escalate." Clare's advice: Re-evaluate the business over time. "Your goals at 40, 50 and 60 may be different," she says. "What does each partner see for themselves? Is it a short-term thing or something they want to build for their kids to inherit? It doesn't have to be the same for everyone, but it does need to be very clear. Plan for it and be a business about it."