My June 2017 blog entitled A Candy Heir, the NHL and Next-Gen Passion, was based on a NY Times article about Nello Ferrara, heir to the Ferrara Candy Company (think Red Hots and Lemonheads among others). A few weeks after I posted the blog, I got an email from Nello himself. He came across the blog and it resonated with him; he asked if I’d like to call him and chat.

We had a great conversation about family business and hockey (two serious interests of mine) and life in general. I knew in April 2018 I’d be attending the Psychodynamics of Family Business (PDFB) Annual Retreat and I wanted to present but was not sure what I’d propose at that point. I suggested to Nello that I might interview him as a breakout session. He agreed and we set another call to really dig into his family business story in depth.

The story was amazing. The business started when Nello’s great-grandfather, Salvatore, opened a small bakery three generations earlier (1908) and hired family members along the way. They put small candies on some of the cakes and pastries as a garnish. It turned out the garnish candies became super popular and the family saw the opportunity and jumped on it; they began focusing on the candies themselves and over time became an American candy-making powerhouse.

Of course, as with any family business – especially when there is tremendous financial success – relationships can become strained and challenges between family members can take their toll. As wealth is created and grows, family members don’t always agree on who should take on leadership roles, how the wealth should be distributed, how ownership is transferred and to whom, and whether or not to sell the company and cash out. Even family members not involved directly in the business are affected by estate plans and access to money (or money withheld).

When Nello presented to PDFB, he did so with an openness and rawness that took us all by surprise. He laid it all out – good and bad – with the hope of helping all the advisors to families in the room learn something that would help them serve their family business clients a bit better. He requested, and the group of 18 consultants committed to, complete confidentiality so that he could be free to share the whole saga; this blog you’re reading was approved by Nello. The attendees were riveted.

There were several painful elements to the history of Ferrara Candy Company and Nello’s experience. Some of the lessons resonate with things I’ve been preaching for years:

  • When families achieve financial/business success attention must be paid to living by core family values.
  • The interplay of family and business must be managed as a project of its own.
  • Raising children in the context of significant wealth has both opportunities and pitfalls. If serious attention is not paid to raising children in ways that encourage character, motivation and perseverance, the wealth can be their downfall.

My thanks to Nello! All the PDFB members got a tremendous amount out of learning his story and I hope that sharing it furthered his journey as well.