On February 10, 2015, as part of the Family Business Legacy Series, William “Stacy” Cowles and Elizabeth “Betsy” Cowles shared their insights learned from leading their company, the Cowles Company. The Legacy Series is a quarterly gathering of Pacific Northwest family businesses that is co-sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Moss Adams, the Pacific Family Business Institute and the Commerce Bank.
Betsy is the Chairman of the Board of Cowles Company and Stacy is the President and the publisher of the Spokesman Review. The company has been a family business for over 100 years and is a diversified conglomerate with operations in newspapers, television stations, real estate, timber, insurance and financial services. It is headquartered in Spokane. Stacy and Betsy, brother and sister, are part of the fourth generation of Cowles in the business.
One of the interesting policies of the Cowles Company that was discussed concerned the employment of family members. Among the terms of their policy:
- The business will not displace or eliminate a current employee to accommodate a family member;
- Where possible, family members will not report directly to other family members;
- Summer employment opportunities can be created for interested family members in high school or college, with such positions being entry level and bona fide work experience;
- To be considered for a full-time management position, the family member must have at least three years of work experience outside of the company after college graduation. In addition, he or she must have a graduate degree in business, journalism, law or another field relevant to the business.
The last point led to a lively exchange among the family business owners regarding the value of requirements of this type versus the need for flexibility.
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