Do The Right Thing

Sticky Situation

By Laura Tiffany

Leaving your employer to start your own business can be one of the best--and most difficult--decisions of your life. But what if you call your former boss "Dad"?

"It's awkward to walk into a family dinner and say you want to leave [the company], but I wanted my own business," recalls Jay Tapper, 29, owner of Tapper Candies Inc. in Cleveland and former employee of Cap Toys Inc., the company his stepfather, John Osher, formerly owned and is now co-president of.

Tapper worked for Cap Toys for two and a half years as head of its newly developed candy division. Leaving might not have been so sticky for Tapper if he hadn't chosen to go into the candy business himself. To soften the blow, Tapper gave nine months' notice and helped pick his successors.

The two companies aren't such fierce competitors as they may seem at first glance. "[The interactive candy industry] is a big market. By focusing on innovation, we're not really competing. [Cap Toys is] trying to maintain their market share, and we're trying to pioneer a whole new category," Tapper says. Innovations from Tapper Candies include the Original Goody Bag, a plastic bag with toys, candy and activities, and the Candy Cam, a toy videocamera that dispenses candy.

Tapper sees his leaving as an act that played fair to both sides. "If I'd wanted to sabotage them and give them a two-week notice, they would have been hurt in the short term and it would have hurt my reputation. People who cut ethical corners--it comes back to them in the end. I'm not advocating being a pushover--you need to be tough and to negotiate your own deals--but ethics and integrity and honesty are just as important."

The karmic theory of ethics Tapper follows seems to be panning out well for his company. In 1997, Tapper Candies brought in sales of $5 million, and Tapper expects to double that this year.

As for his family ties with his stepfather? It's become a healthy, but not too sugary, competitive relationship: Tapper invited Osher to be his best man when he got married last year, but the two refused to be photographed together in an article in The New York Times in 1997, lest they promote each other's companies.

Contact Sources

Boston Knish Inc., (978) 264-0107,

Salsman Lundgren Public Relations Inc., (314) 726-6111, fax: (314) 726-6511

SeaRail International Inc., (713) 223-0022, fax: (713) 223-0729

Tapper Candies Inc., 15551 NEO Pkwy., Cleveland, OH 44128, (888) GOODY-90

Walker Information Inc., (800) 231-4904,

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Do The Right Thing.

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