Family business drama solved by focusing on sales

NEW YORK (AP) — When Jennifer Busch went to work in her family's uniform business her biggest challenge had little to do with work.

She and her father disagreed over her vision for building I. Buss & Allan, how to manage its long-time workers and where to manufacture the garments. At times, the atmosphere was so unpleasant that Busch and her father, Stuart, didn't speak to one another — for months. Busch, who expected to take over the New York-based company when her father retired, had to find a way to work with, and around, people in the company including her dad.

"His way worked for a certain time — he kept the business running for 50 years. That's no small feat," Busch says. "But it's one thing to keep it running and another thing to grow it."

Busch says she survived by gritting her teeth, picking her battles carefully and sticking to her mission: to keep building the company. Most importantly, she focused on bringing in revenue.

I. Buss & Allan sells and rents uniforms for people in a variety of industries including doormen, maintenance workers, firemen and restaurant employees. When Busch started working in the company about 16 years ago, her father taught her everything about the business, starting with doing the laundry. But as she took on more management responsibilities and introduce new ideas, he resisted.

When she wanted to make garments including shirts in China, he opposed the plan.

"He said, 'what will we get? It's a lot of headaches,'" Busch says. "I told him, 'there are headaches everywhere. We can save some money and have good quality.'"

Busch got her way. While she says her father is stubborn, so is she.

Some of the biggest fights were over staffing. Busch's vision for the company included designing uniforms to fit with customers' brands. She was aggressive in bringing in business from commercial real estate companies, including the uniforms for doormen. But long-time employees balked at the changes.

"They actually were impeding the progress of the company," Busch says. "I needed the company to be managed differently in order to support the new business."

So she began firing most of the 20 workers, angering her father even though he eventually agreed. But he said no when she wanted to fire some of his oldest employees, the ones he was most attached to.

Busch worked around them.

"I hired other people who could do their jobs and started shifting more and more responsibility on to those people," she says. "I trained them to be sure things got done the way I wanted them to get done."

All the while, the tension between father and daughter grew to the point where they avoided speaking for weeks or even months. Busch stopped going to family events. Going to work every day became painful.

"I would come into the office, I would work and do my thing," she says.

The strife helped convince her father a year and a half ago that it was time to retire, at age 78.

"He started to realize that he had to retire because we had different management styles and so much tension had built up between us," Busch says. "But I had tripled our revenue, so what could he say?"

Their relationship has improved tremendously since his retirement. Busch feels comfortable asking her father for advice, for example, about some of the company's new uniform designs.

"He's the person I would go to for help," she says.

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