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Fortunoff: Blurred lines can cause friction in family firms

Esther Fortunoff, of Fortunoff family fame, speaks to

Esther Fortunoff, of Fortunoff family fame, speaks to women about how to grow and sustain a business during the Long Island Center for Business and Professional Women during their monthly meeting in Woodbury, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Family businesses have to be managed differently from other enterprises, a member of the famed Fortunoff retail family said this week.

“To avoid friction, it’s best to allow each family member to delve into their own expertise in separate areas of activity,” Esther Fortunoff told members of the Long Island Center for Business & Professional Women on Monday at the Fox Hollow catering hall in Woodbury. “Without clearly defined responsibilities, the lines get blurred between family relationships and business relationships, and emotions enter the decisions.”

Fortunoff was the third generation to enter the family business, and rose to executive vice president of the retail chain’s fine jewelry division. In 2002 the chain consisted of more than 3,000 employees, 11 locations and more than $400 million a year in sales, she said.

The chain closed in 2009, after being sold to private equity firms twice and filing for bankruptcy twice, Newsday previously reported. The Fortunoff family bought the intellectual property rights at auction, including the brand name.

In 2010 Esther Fortunoff re-entered the jewelry business when she established the e-commerce business FortunoffJewelry.com, and three years ago she opened Fortunoff Fine Jewelry in the Source Mall in Westbury that the flagship Fortunoff store once anchored.

Fortunoff told the women’s center members that 90 percent of her family’s employees were women.

“Fortunoff had working women at all levels,” she said. “That was unusual at the time.”

As a result, she said, she instituted flex time, part-time and split shift positions, “so that women could work and also raise their families.”

Being in business these days has it challenges, especially because of changing tastes in jewelry among one of the most prized demographics: millennials.

“They probably don’t wear as much jewelry in the normal day to day, and I think they often will wear costume jewelry,” said Fortunoff, who sells gold, gemstones, wedding bands and diamonds.

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