Sibling Rivalry

There never has been any sibling rivalry among the five in our family. My kid brother came along when I was already fourteen and my older sister fifteen. We treated him like a prized toy. The two sisters in the middle liked the fact that they were no longer being babied by Ma.

The only time I can think of where things got nasty between my older sister and myself was an incident that occurred when I was two years old. I have to take my parents word on this. Supposedly, my three year old sister (who should have know better, right?) objected to my wanting to play with the same heavy metal spinning top that she was using. So, to make her point, she banged me on the head with it causing excessive bleeding and a visit to the hospital emergency room. I can assure you that there is no scar, lump or recurring pain to remind me of it. I do remember that top. It was the type that had a twisted metal stick. When you pushed down on it, it played musical tones and spun.

However, I have had the pleasure of observing sibling rivalry at its worst among clients who had family owned businesses. At least four situations:

The first was a company that sold typewriters as well as offered service contracts on them. In the early 1980’s, this was still a thriving business. But, as the 1980’s pushed into the 90’s, personal computers with word processing programs started to take the place of typewriters for those who could afford to spend from two thousand to twenty-five hundred dollars.

When the going was good, in this particular company, the older brother did the sales. He was the friendly outgoing salesman type who was an incessant smoker. I couldn’t stand the cigarette stench or the fact that it also got on my clothes, but business was business and I had to grin and bear it as best as possible. The younger brother, also an inveterate smoker handled all the typewriter cleaning and repairs.

Once they saw that businesses were no longer purchasing new typewriters, they tried to shift to selling computers and offering repair contracts as well. However, that endeavor required not only a different approach to selling but also to repair. A typewriter was easier to sell. There were only so many ways to type on it. A computer was more than just a word processor and required a good knowledge of what to do when it was turned on. The salesperson in those days needed to also educate the end user and had better be properly trained himself in computer usage.

There became a point where the younger brother saw that his older sibling was not doing so well with sales and thought he could go on his own and open a repair shop for computers. The brothers stopped talking to each other. I still considered the sales shop as my customer and continued giving the older brother assistance when asked. Then one day the younger brother asked me to help him, too. I asked the older brother if it would bother him if I helped his brother and he thanked me for first asking and gave his permission.

I went to the repair shop once and helped the younger brother load some software and got it to work. At the next visit he told me he had floppies of the customer database that he copied from the other store before he left and asked me to load it into his computer. I refused saying that it was really the property of the other place and I could not do so unless his brother approved. He then spoke a few nasty words to me and that was the last I ever saw of him again.

Several years later, I saw the older brother at another client whom he had referred me to a while back. He was now selling industrial supplies and making the rounds to this place. He had suffered two major heart attacks but refused to give up smoking as he said that in itself would kill him.

Another client had been family owned started by the father and mother. When the father got to a certain age, he slowed down and handed the business over to his two sons. One of the sons usurped control and started to treat the brother as if he was a nincompoop and refused to allow him to help make any business decisions. Eventually, he opened a branch office in Florida and banished the brother there to run that office.

A third client had a foundry business in which both brothers ran different aspects of it. I dealt with one brother who told the other to stay out of dealing with me. He would fill in to him the reporting I helped produced but under no circumstances was he allowed to talk to me and ask me to do anything.

A few years later the brother I dealt with had health problems and had to relinquish the day-to-day running of his side of the enterprise to the other brother. To his credit, the other brother never showed any animosity towards me and there was a smooth transition.

Finally, at present I deal with a customer where the father turned over a quite successful business operation to his three children, a son and two daughters. Being old school, he made the oldest- a male- the president of the company and the two sisters, vice presidents. He gave the son the right to make the decisions. This has lead to nothing but acrimony. One of the sisters to this very day does not talk to the brother and vice versa. When I need to inform them of work that I have done that affects both, I must email them separately and/or make two phone calls.

The moral of this story is that blood may be thicker than water but not pride.

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