Posted on Apr 20, 2015
President’s Perspective: John Friedman John Friedman and Jim Flanagan

CFBC President 2013-2014


After practicing law for several decades, I joined the family’s steel, lithography, and container sales mini-conglomerate. I joined my great-uncle and father about 21 years ago without having any business experience.

Then, about 18 years ago, I found myself sitting at my great-uncle’s desk while the executive director of the Family Business Council was recruiting me to join the organization. I was wondering how I would sell this expensive perk to my father and great-uncle.

Upon joining the FBC, I was directed to attend the Forum meetings of two different Forums to get a feel for which one I felt most comfortable in. I remember attending the first meeting. I was an outsider, and self-imposed, I felt it. I wondered why these successful business people were disclosing private business and personal information in my presence. Did I look that trustworthy? I wondered if I had any knowledge or insights that could be valuable to those people.

I remember attending the second meeting and feeling that as much as the members were different sorts of people than I was, they, too, made me feel welcome, trustworthy and overall worthy. I didn’t want nine other people like me. I didn’t want nine “yes men.” I couldn’t pin down a reason, but I felt most comfortable with the Sigma Forum.

I remember when an outsider quipped that by joining FBC, I was buying some new friends. That person simply didn’t understand. I had plenty of satisfying friendships. I joined to pursue self-improvement in various areas of my life. Because my professional experience was in poverty law, criminal law and bankruptcy, I needed unbiased business and life advisers who were not on the clock at my expense. I needed people who had a genuine interest in me. And I needed them pronto. That’s exactly what I got.

I remember the first time I confronted the impact of FBC confidentiality when, during Forum, someone disclosed something so private that I was astounded to learn it. I had been a practicing attorney for a long time, and I understood the necessary confidentiality between attorney and client. This was just as solemn. Perhaps even more so.

I remember making my first presentation. I must have spent a week preparing for it. I knew I could trust my Forum members, so it never occurred to me to hold back. At first, it was uber-broad – I had thrown in the kitchen sink. So, I edited out extra topics that would just confuse. Next, I edited out the extraneous facts that would distract. On draft eleven, I felt I should just hand it out and shut up. I didn’t do that. I was proud of my presentation. The feedback blew me away – no one in my family paid attention to me like my Forum members did, and the insights were just what I needed.

I remember thinking about my first retreat. “God, am I going to have to sit through nine people telling their life stories as they shuffle ever so slowly across their life lines. I am ADHD; I won’t be able to sit through one presentation – let alone nine.” But then, I was spellbound during each presentation, learning more facts and depth about each of my Forum members than I knew about some of my closest friends. I began to see what brought each person to the FBC and to that retreat. This was an unforgettable life experience that deepened my relationship with my Forum members and taught me the concept of profound shared experiences.

I avoided the large group functions for the first couple years. I knew only a few members other than those in my Forum, and I just didn’t feel comfortable attending. An upcoming event seemed relevant to one of my issues. I attended and not only found value in the presentation, but I felt warmly welcomed by members I didn’t know. I wanted to attend more of these.

After attending a number of events, I felt that there should be a higher take home value from those meetings. I wrote a note to the Programming Committee chairperson. Somehow, I found myself on the Programming Committee. I did feel that I could contribute to improved programming.

I remember when all of our Forum meetings were held at the Rosewood restaurant in the room behind the bar. The sliding door interrupted us every time a member of the wait staff entered to refresh our food and drink – a welcome distraction to an ADHD guy sitting in a long meeting. We started with lunch and ended long after dinner (still do). We were (and still are) often together over 7 hours.

I remember attending funerals and weddings of the relatives of my Forum members.

I remember getting a phone call to meet the Chairman and President of the CFBC for a breakfast meeting. As an ADHD kid, that kind of summons meant I was in trouble. As an adult, I still wondered if I had done something wrong. I had. I had demonstrated commitment to the organization beyond my Forum. They wanted to know if I would accept the position of 2nd Vice President, leading to the Presidency. How do you say “no” over pancakes?

During my terms in different officer roles, I worked with some sharp and giving people who had strong interest in improving our organization. I developed some new friendships for which I am grateful.

Originally, I had thought that Strategic Partners (SPs) were just independent service/business providers who simply thought of CFBC as a pool of business potential. After interviewing SP candidates, attending SP’s committee meetings, meeting with individual SPs who served on CFBC committees (they serve too!) and watching them add valuable substance, I was impressed with the high quality of their expertise and professional work, as well as their genuine dedication to improving the CFBC. We have awesome SPs!

I see the CFBC in transition from an older membership to a membership of older entrepreneurs and next-generation entrepreneurs. From a family-focused membership to a mixed membership of family business stakeholders and independent entrepreneurs. From the confines of UIC to the welcome embrace of DePaul University and a connection to Crain’s. I see the CFBC as a dynamic enterprise poised to offer an incredible skill set, cherished advisers, worthy resources and programs with significant take home value.

I have traversed my own family’s deaths, family crises, business shocks, and business changes while a CFBC member. I did it more gracefully and confidently than I would have done it alone, and I emerged stronger each time. I had the support of my Forum.

I recognize that there are few rules or boundaries within the sphere of my old friendships. Meeting once a month and having boundaries and rule sets, my Forum consists of a group of trusted personal advisers, an ersatz board of directors, people who served as mirrors, reflecting back what I have said in a most helpful way, people who demonstrate their caring in words and actions. The byproduct is they have become friends with a special depth. They have become my closest friends. Funny how that happened.

Respectfully submitted in our 20th year,

John A. Friedman
Northern Container/Darco Enterprises, Inc.

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