Grow Up Spending Time With Family: When Siblings Become Business Partners

Words by Lucy Rennick

By Lucy Rennick, 3/7/2017
Brought to you by Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz has a long and storied history of defying convention. Now it's your turn to grow up and write life's unwritten rules.

If you’re someone with siblings, you’ll be familiar with a very distinct form of anger. It’s the kind of anger that bubbles when your brother doesn’t give you a turn at the Nintendo. It rears its head when your sister borrows your favourite skirt without asking and then makes out with your crush at a party. URGH.

During childhood and adolescence, the sibling relationship is a challenging one, tinged with a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of provocation, rivalry, plenty of pinches in the back seat on long road trips and a few slammed doors to boot. Siblings are the people who’ve known you the longest, so they naturally know exactly which buttons to press. Anyone with siblings feels like booting them clean off the planet – at least once.

But then you grow up. Unless you’re the Rayburn family in the Netflix original series Bloodline, you and your siblings have probably moved past the period of intense warfare. You’re functioning, mature adults who’ve grown to accept each other for who you are. Your parents are probably nagging you to spend more time with each other, rather than sending you all to your respective rooms for three hours after a brawl. But in the fast-paced world of today in which we are more time poor than ever, spending time with siblings doesn’t always happen in the traditional sense. Some sets of siblings – like Hannah and Eliza Reilly, and Ameer and Joey El-Issa – are rewriting the rules by working together.

At a time when millennial entrepreneurs are both time-poor and being pulled in many opposing directions in life, perhaps it makes sense to ‘kill two birds’ by bringing personal lives and professional lives together. Of course, working with siblings doesn’t come without challenges – if you’re entering into a business relationship with the people you grew up with, you want to be aiming for the Knowles dynamic (and avoiding the Lannister dynamic at all costs). But just how easy is that to achieve? How plausible is it that the person or people who know you best (and were jerks to you in the ‘90s) will make the best business partners? For a sibling partnership to do well – like, Beyoncé-and-Solange-well – the traditional rules of business need to be broken.

How To Make It Work (And How Good It Is When It Does)

Up there with the gold standard of sibling partnerships are The Bearded Bakers, a creative hospitality group led by Ameer and Joey El–Issa. Their boutique bakery, Knafeh, is famous for tasty Levantine desserts and snake-like queues around whichever Sydney block their shipping container is parked on the weekend. You’d be forgiven for assuming a solid working relationship between siblings requires nothing more than a Middle Eastern cream cheese-based sweet treat, but The El–Issa brothers know it takes slightly more than that.

The business has centred on family since its infancy. The Knafeh recipe came from Ameer and Joey’s Palestinian mother, and the family’s strong relationship with one another has grown to characterise the bakery – energised, sociable and a little rambunctious. Ameer and Joey are only 16 months apart, and their closeness is evident. According to Ameer, the family dynamic is a clear factor in the bakery’s success (the brothers are ready to take Knafeh to New York this year). The brothers play to their strengths at work, allowing each to do their own thing without getting in the way.

“People love seeing the bond between us,” he says. “Our family and friend vibe and the way we interact with each other is intrinsic to the Knafeh experience, and it keeps growing as we do. We’ve always worked together as a family – it’s what we know. It comes naturally to us.”


Photo: Joey and Ameer El-Issa

“The upside to working with someone you grew up with is having 100 percent confidence and trust in their decisions,” says Eliza Reilly, who with her sister Hannah is working on a web series with Screen Australia. The pilot, entitled Sheilas, is about the badass but mostly forgotten women of Australian history.

Forging a creative partnership with someone you’ve known since childhood delivers the kinds of advantages that aren’t seen too often when working with non-family. “As we get older we’re getting much better at appreciating each other as colleagues as well as sisters,” says Eliza. “Plus our parents get really annoyed that we’re both so busy all the time and don’t come over for dinner anymore, so being able to say we’re spending time together almost every day helps with that.”

Eliza and Hannah grew up together (and are only 13 months apart in age), so there’s a shared pool of inspiration and influences there that are unique to their relationship; when it comes to writing for television, this common ground is invaluable. But everyone knows a successful working relationship really comes down to harmony.

“We balance each other out well, because Hannah is the logical ‘head’ of the pair (read: very demanding) and Eliza is the ‘heart’ (read: cries almost daily),” Eliza says.


Photo: Joey and Ameer El-Issa

Keeping It In The Family

Obviously, doing business with siblings doesn’t equate to smooth sailing 100 percent of the time.

A key takeaway? Family and your relationships come first ­– always before the work.

“There’s no hiding who you are in front of family. They’re always quick to call you out things you’re doing wrong,” Ameer says. “But even if we fight (and we do, but never in front of customers), we know that tomorrow will come and we’ll all be back to normal. All is forgiven and forgotten.”

The Reilly sisters may not be so diplomatic in their conflict resolution style.

“A tied knife fight in the car park usually works,” jokes Eliza. In reality, they’ll argue for a few minutes about the best path to take. If they can’t agree, they’ll think of something else until they do. And that’s the beauty of compromise in action.


Photo: Hannah and Eliza Reilly

A New Kind of ‘Adulthood’?

Both The Bearded Bakers and the Reilly sisters are living proof that the rules of work partnerships (and the rules of work itself) have changed. Ameer, Joey, Hannah and Eliza are not your average 9-5 office professionals, and they haven’t taken a conventional approach towards the tenets of adult life that have traditionally been hailed as ‘musts’.

Instead, they’ve bucked the trends and pushed the envelope in their fields, creating new ways of succeeding, new ways of being. The boundaries between their social, professional and personal lives are blurred – so much so that work becomes play, and vice versa. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, those cute Sydney house prices don’t seem to be budging anytime soon – so they may as well bake and/or make television instead.

“There are so many rules and ideas about what it means to grow up, or be whole, or ‘complete’ as a person – especially as a woman,” says Eliza. “Hannah and I try to ignore most of them as best we can. To me, growing up means caring less every year about what people think of you. That’s a beautiful thing.”

For most millennials reaching adulthood in 2017, the concept of success is no longer intrinsically tied to financial stability, or ownership of material possessions – especially for those in creative industries. While Hannah and Eliza joke about success being equivalent to owning a solid gold yacht, in reality ‘success’ comes down to being recognised as artists and businesswomen in a highly competitive industry. That, and being paid for a job they’d otherwise be doing for free.

For Ameer and Joey, it’s about being able to spend time with the most important people in their lives – family. “I’m blessed to be able to do something I love,” says Ameer. “It means my personal and professional world is merged – coffee catch-ups and meetings are one and the same for me. Contacts become friends, friends bring about great contacts. The pay off of this new kind of ‘adulthood’ is a good one.”


Photo: Hannah and Eliza Reilly

All images: Parker Blain

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Brought to you by Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz has a long and storied history of defying convention. Now it's your turn to grow up and write life's unwritten rules.