They say it’s unwise to mix work with family.
There are exceptions, of course.
Hawke’s Bay brothers John, Brendan and Barry O’Sullivan have worked together for decades running Tumu Group, managing to avoid fallouts or rifts along the way.
The company has gone from strength to strength under their leadership and now has about 600 staff across its various businesses and brands, from timber processing to property development.
Last month, the family and company received a major acknowledgement, winning the Family Business Award at the prestigious 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Auckland.
It was a nod to the O’Sullivans’ journey that began when their late father, Hugh, launched the company almost 50 years ago.
Eldest brother John has been with the company since the early years and said a lack of big egos among the brothers and the leadership team had been a key to Tumu’s success.
“One of the worst things you can have in a business is big egos, and if those big egos clash it can cause a lot of friction.
“And when there is a lot of friction it is wasted energy. So humbleness and focus are important.”
John has a terminal brain tumour and receives palliative care but has no plans to ease back from the job and company he loves, which Hugh started in 1975 as a lumber yard and fence post business in Dannevirke.
John said his health had been cause to reflect on the journey.
“Health often determines times of reflection and that is quite important, looking at the business’ values and thinking of the part you have played in the wider community and in your family.”
The company’s values had helped build a strong culture over the years, including treating others as you would want to be treated and setting a good example.
“I think that’s been one of the strengths of how we came to be recognised as a family business.
“The people in the workplace are like your second family, because they are the people you spend most of your time with outside your immediate family and friends.”
John said his wife, Michelle, had been another big part of the company’s success, as a wonderful person keeping the brothers and family close-knit.
Tumu Group now owns, or is a major shareholder in, a long list of companies and brands. Those include the likes of Tumu Timber, Tumu Property, Killarney Capital, PermaPine, Midland Brick and Kiwi Lumber.
The group also had six building supplies stores around the East Coast, known as Tumu stores, but sold those to PlaceMakers’ parent company last year.
Brendan O’Sullivan, who is one of nine siblings, said he was proud of the business partnerships they had formed.
The variety within the company meant there was space for everyone in the family to use their strengths.
“I think we have been a fairly harmonious family who have worked really well together and have had really good business partners.”
Youngest brother Barry said the company had thrived with the brothers working together.
“I think that is one of our strengths – it is better together.”
Tumu Group’s headquarters are in Havelock North.
Gary Hamilton-Irvine is a Hawke’s Bay-based reporter who covers a range of news topics including business, councils, breaking news and cyclone recovery. He formerly worked at News Corp Australia.