Bridging The Gap

Ol' Will Shakespeare said it centuries ago: ''Crabbed age and youth cannot live together.'' Maybe not. But they can incorporate.

Somewhere in the middle of New York City, in a small art auction house, there's a crack in the foundation. Even the best building inspector on the block wouldn't find the crack in the walls of Swann Galleries, because the crack is a chasm. A gap, really. A generation gap.

And the entrepreneurs are the foundation. Nicholas and George Lowry own Swann Galleries. Nicholas is 32; his dad, George, is 69. Sometimes they disagree on how to run their business. "Whenever there's an age gap between business owners, there are points of contention," says Nicholas.

For instance, Nicholas recalls the arguments with his father when they were updating their offices and corporate logo: "We are now a 21st century company," Nicholas had argued. "We can't have a 17th century look!" So the offices as well as the logo finally changed, "radically." And the business is still thriving.

Partner with a person just 10 years your senior, and you may feel like you've teamed up with your older brother. Which could be a problem, if your brother would give you a wedgie in a room of VCs.

Then there are questions you're likely to ask when your partner is 20 years older: Will I be sent to my office after a disagreement? Can I borrow the company car? Is Dad going to apologize for the Christmas Eve I saw Santa making out with Mom?

Er, um, anyway, Gen X is bridging the generation gap every day with stunning success. In 1997, Jaye Muller was 24 when he hired then 38-year-old Richard Ressler to take the role of CEO and run his then-stalled New York City company, JFAX.COM, a high-tech fax delivery system. Together, Muller and Ressler forged a powerhouse that has clients in 200 countries and brought in $7 million last year. It's a firm so successful, it's allowed Muller to get back to the thing that fires him up the most: making music.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bridging The Gap.

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