Lynne Curry: Brother steps in to save a business, then becomes a bully

Lynne Curry

Q. When my husband died, I was left with our business. I'd been handling the books and I thought I could manage things alone. I soon learned I couldn't. The guys in the shop took advantage of me when they realized I didn't know what was going on. Customers got worried and our sales fell off.

My older brother had just lost his job and gone through a blistering divorce. One day when we were commiserating, I offered him a job running the shop and handling the marketing. He said yes, that nothing was holding him in North Carolina.

I couldn't pay him much and he didn't have enough money to buy into the business, but we agreed on a salary that included increases when our profits grew, along with a ten percent share of the business at the end of a year.

At first, I was really grateful because I couldn't have carried on without him. Things went well for the first eight months. We went from in trouble to stable. Then, just about the time I started getting my sea legs under me, we began rubbing each other the wrong way. My brother has become a class-A jerk, yelling at me when things don't go his way. I just want him to go because it's become intolerable in the office when he and I are both around.

I need help.

A. When work relationships fall apart, anger and blame often result. Add family relationships and unmet expectations into the mix, and you have a potentially business or family crippling disaster.

You and your brother need to get to the bottom of what's going on before it's too late. You've both been through a lot and you currently share a business -- with employees who deserve your best.

What's going on with your brother? Are his behaviors a delayed reaction to his divorce or the stress of moving across the country? Are you seeing the behaviors that caused his divorce? Does he not know how to handle it when he doesn't run things?

From what you report, your brother needs to stop jerk behavior and shape up or ship out. At the same time, he's only part of this equation.

When your brother first came, you saw him as a life raft. Now you don't. You say he's changed. Have you? Do you appreciate him less? If so, does part of his behavior result from you treating him more as an employee and less as a potential partner? If you ask him to leave just before he becomes part owner of a business he's worked in -- an expectation he had when signing on -- will he feel used? If so, and you ax him, how do you plan to compensate him for unmet expectations?

You may need a third party mediator to help you through this -- one who can hear both sides and help both of you work out a dignified solution.

Q. My daughter and her fiance are having a hard time finding jobs. I've told them one problem they're having is their email addresses. My daughter says I'm being ridiculous and employers aren't that petty. She reads your column.

A. If Lady Gaga hires, your daughter's handle,, makes her a shoo-in. If not, it portrays her as a flamboyant applicant who might oversleep in the morning. Her fiance's address suggests he's fun, but may equally work against him if on top of his resume.

Some employers don't notice email addresses. Many, however, react to email addresses -- sometimes with a chuckle or curiosity and at other times with "you've got to be kidding" thoughts as they make decisions for which applicants to interview and which resumes to deep-six.

Your daughter and her fiance have an easy solution -- they can get second email addresses and route incoming email from their second addresses to their first. Alternatively, their email address may help them screen out the employers for which they wouldn't enjoy working.

Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. Send your questions to her at

Lynne Curry