Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011

The Not-So-Friendly Friendly's Brothers

When the Blake brothers, 20-year-old Prestley and 18-year-old Curtis, opened their first Friendly ice cream shop in 1935, the Massachusetts siblings had no idea how difficult it could be to do business with family. Their company saw great success and expansion in the '50s and '60s, and by 1979 they were ready to sell. The Hershey Foods Corp. purchased Friendly, but nine years later the ice cream chain was sold to Tennessee Foods, who changed its name to Friendly's. These deals all seemed to be acceptable to both brothers, but in 2007, when Friendly's announced that it had hired Goldman Sachs to help it explore another possible sale, younger brother Curtis had had enough.

He wrote a letter to his older brother Prestley, who still held 13% of the company, asking him on behalf of Friendly's management not to allow another sale. "Our company is now in a very precarious position," wrote Curtis. "You alone are now in the position to control the entire future." Prestley responded publicly, telling the Boston Globe: "I'm sorry my brother isn't with me on this, but I'm going to keep going because I know I'm right." And with that Friendly's was sold for $337 million to the private investment firm, Sun Capital Partners. It has been said the brothers regret business came between them. In the same Globe article, Curtis wrote of the sad ending to their story: "I'm very disappointed. He was my best friend for 85 years. It would have been a nice story if we ended up best friends for our entire life."