Mitchell Kaneff always wanted to work with his father – but he never expected to one day have to fire him.
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The younger Kaneff grew up watching his father run Arkay Packaging, an American manufacturing company focused on high-end packaging for brands like Ralph Lauren and Estee Lauder.
“We always had a great relationship. So he spent a lot of his time and hours when I was younger working six days a week, so on those days off I found him to be incredibly important and valuable,” says Mitchell. “He was always a role model from a very early age, and I always looked up to him as a mentor.”
In fact, Howard Kaneff had taken over Arkay from his own father, who started the company in 1922 shortly after emigrating to the U.S. from Russia. As a result, he started grooming Mitchell for a job at Arkay from an early age.
“[D]iscipline was one of the greatest gifts he gave me, and empathy. From a very young age, he said you should really be working on the factory floor, so my first job was at the end of the last process in our operations which was gluing and putting all the boxes as they came off the glue line onto these skids,” says Mitchell. “I got a real opportunity to see what everyone went through and then over the years working in every operation throughout the facility. So getting an understanding of the business was an incredibly valuable gift that my dad gave me.”
But actually handing over the reins wasn’t easy. Mitchell Kaneff was named president of Arkay in 1997 – but soon realized Dad was still trying to run the show.
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As Dad (Howard) recalls: “I kept [running the business] emotionally and gave instructions to people that worked for him. And then there was the confusion of who do I work for? Do I work for Mitchell or do I work for Howard? So we got that cleared up by his firing me.”
Needless to say, firing your father doesn’t come easy. In fact, it took Mitchell seven years.
“It wasn’t a quick decision,” says Mitchell, who eventually made his father chairman emeritus of the board. Both say their best advice for other family businesses is to clearly define roles – and make sure no one’s overstepping their boundaries.
Now that Mitchell has two sons of his own, he’s faced with the question of whether Arkay Packaging will continue on as a fourth-generation family business.
“It’s one of those things I dream about, because I love my boys so much and then I would love to work with them because I think they’re amazing individuals,” says Mitchell Kaneff. “But really it is up to them. If they want to do something else, then I’ll think about what I have to do in the next step of the evolution of the company.”