For Jeff Cohen, entrepreneurship runs in his family. In 1927, his grandfather had the “vision” to create an entirely new industry, fashion frames for eyeglasses. This innovation and three generations of family stewardship have helped Cohen’s Fashion Optical grow to over 100 locations in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Taking a page from his family’s playbook, Jeff Cohen started the Cohen Management Group in 2001. At the same time that he was starting his own business, the family-owned General Vision Services was purchased from bankruptcy, and Jeff was determined to bring them back from the brink. By 2008, after recruiting and grooming the management team, General Vision Services had not only returned to profitability, but had also grown into one of the leading third party administrators in the Northeast.
In 2008, Golden Pear Funding was launched, adding to the investments under the Cohen Management Group umbrella. Under Jeff Cohen’s leadership, Golden Pear Funding is now the nation’s leader in providing litigation funding services.
As the co-founder and president of Cohen Management Group, Jeff Cohen of Manhattan, New York, is deeply familiar with the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and has learned dozens of valuable lessons that he is eager to share.
What is the most difficult thing about being a CEO?
Being a CEO can be as demanding and rewarding as it can be challenging. The most difficult part about being a CEO is the responsibility for other people’s livelihoods. When you run a company with employees, they become your family and you feel pressure and responsibility to ensure consistency and sustained growth on their behalf—as well as your own. You put yourself on the line and make significant sacrifices, like time with loved ones and vacation time. That being said, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What keeps you going on the toughest days?
I have always had
an internal drive towards problem solving and I believe that every situation
can be figured out. No matter the difficulty or problem, I know that it can be
solved one way or another. This mentality has allowed me to remain calm and
collected even in the most stressful moments of my career, and has allowed me
to make calculated, informed, and logical decisions about my business. Every
CEO or entrepreneur will go through hardship and struggle. Being able to
overcome these struggles by knowing your own strengths and weaknesses will keep
you moving forward.
How can you tell if you are making the right investment?
Research, research, and research. There is something to be said about taking risks, but when it is your company or your pocketbook on the line, it is best to take your time. If you do not know, ask a professional, and then ask another professional for a second opinion. You have to do your due diligence before jumping into anything that could risk your financial security. Once you know everything you can reasonably know, follow your intuition.
As a CEO, what protocol do you have to mitigate risk?
I believe that
mitigating risk is about seeing the bigger picture. Being able to view your
company from a holistic perspective is about knowing every role, inside and
out. Talk to your employees, encourage open dialogue and asking questions, and
do not punish mistakes. You want your employees to be honest with you and share
the issues and problems they are having to better serve them and your
customers. Your employees know the subtleties and inner workings of your
business, and their opinions matter.
How do you grow a family business?
Before you even start a family business, clearly identify everyone’s
strengths and weaknesses and set their roles accordingly. If you have the right
person in every role at the outset, you will have built an equation for
success. As you start to grow your business and employ people outside of your
family, you will have to delegate and build trust. Hire people you trust and
you will not have to micromanage their every move.
What is your best tip for working with family?
My best tip for working with family is to be patient, communicate clearly, and don’t sugar coat anything. It is crucial to outline a communication plan with your family, which draws a clear line between work and leisure. Do not discuss work outside of designated hours. You also want to ensure you are honest with your family about their strengths and weaknesses—easier said than done, of course. You want everyone to excel; sugar coating the truth about their abilities will only hinder your business’ growth.