25 Under 35
These next-generation members are making solid contributions to their families and to their family businesses.
Every family that wants to sustain its enterprise must face the challenge of grooming its young people to be responsible stewards. The "twenty-somethings" and "thirty-somethings" profiled here demonstrate the high payoff of next-generation engagement efforts.
These young men and women are a diverse group. Some are doing hands-on work in their family businesses; others are remotely based shareholders who participate through service on family councils. The family enterprises range widely in age and size and represent a variety of industries, including agriculture, retail stores, distribution, packaging and hospitality, as well as family investment companies.
Much has been written about integrating next-generation members into management or ownership roles. Now we find out what their views are.
The future looks bright indeed.
Ashley Sheetz, 25
Sheetz Inc. began as a single dairy store in 1952 and today is a chain of convenience stores with more than 400 locations in six states. There are currently 14 family members working at the Altoona, Pa.-based company.
In some ways, Ashley Sheetz symbolizes the company's desire to keep up with trends. In 2011 she became the first female family member to work full-time at the company. In her role as social media manager, she spreads the word about the company, which offers fresh, made-to-order foods under names such as "burgerz" and "fajitaz."
Sheetz earned her bachelor of arts degree in marketing from the Pennsylvania State University and plans to go back for her MBA. She served as a summer intern at the company when she was in college. She says there is a lot of respect for the younger generation at Sheetz. "Everybody is supportive of one another, and everybody has respect for each other and the roles people play in the company," she says.
Sheetz says the family council keeps all family members informed about the business and engages them in philanthropic activities that benefit Make-A-Wish, the Salvation Army, Special Olympics and other charitable organizations. The council recently brought more than 70 family members together for a family assembly, she reports.
Sheetz says of working in a family business, "It's an incredible opportunity to carry on the legacy that the family has started. It's a great way to stay connected, but you have to remember that family is family, and business is business. Make sure that respect and support are there, and that everyone understands that you're all in it for the greater goal."
William Barrett, 29
Elisha D. Smith founded Menasha in 1852 as a wooden pail factory. After several evolutions over more than 160 years, the company provides packaging, logistics and marketing services and generates more than $1 billion in annual revenues.
More than 150 family members are shareholders in Menasha. In 2003, the fifth generation decided to do something about getting the sixth generation involved with the company and connected with each other, and the Elisha D. Smith Family Council was born.
Barrett, a sixth-generation member, begrudgingly got involved in the family council at the insistence of his mother. Now he hopes for "a lifetime of involvement" with the family and the business. "Each generation should be tenacious about getting the next generation involved, because it does matter," he says.
Barrett believes that he is about as involved as can be for someone not living near the company headquarters. He participates in shareholder meetings, plant tours, family gatherings and other areas of outreach. The family council develops avenues of engagement with the company, including social events, such as the annual family gathering and local get-togethers, as well as educational opportunities like internships. The council also publishes a newsletter.
As his day job Barrett is the in-house legal counsel for a large family-owned company in New York. "I hope I can take some of the knowledge I have developed at work and use those skills at my family's company, although the other company is much younger," he says. "Similarly, being on the family council helps in my other job."
Barrett is leaving the door open for working at Menasha but has not decided on that yet. In any case, he wants to be involved with the family and the family company.
"I love getting to know the family members, branches and histories and understanding the collective family history from a different perspective, as well as getting to know distant cousins I might [otherwise] never know," he says.
"Multigeneration family businesses are a rare, special breed," Barrett says. "They are like a fraternity, where people can share a sense of camaraderie. I enjoy engaging with other such families and reading publications that cover them."
Torri Hawley, 23
Hawley, a seventh-generation member of her family enterprise, majored in family business at Stetson University. She provided program development for client education focused on next-generation inheritors for the wealth management unit of a major bank and is now working for a fourth-generation oil and gas family business in Denver "to see the inner workings of a family business that is not my own."
The investments of Hawley's family holding company, Windway Capital, include Vollrath Company, a producer of commercial food service equipment, and North Technology Group, a diverse family of companies serving marine and manufacturing markets. Vollrath has been in the family since 1874.
Hawley says her grandfather, Terry Kohler, 80, has started to step back. The sixth generation "has two very different family styles," and she is helping to bridge the communication gap, she says. The family has engaged a professional adviser to facilitate family meetings.
The seventh generation has little involvement in the company at this point, but "it's a process that's coming along," according to Hawley. She is active on the board but not in the company, which is run by professional management. "There is room to be engaged in the company but not necessarily work there," she says.
"I get a lot of satisfaction out of being involved as I get more educated," Hawley says. "The work is worth it. I know how far we've come, and I can't get started soon enough."
Ryan Cecil, 27
The Biltmore Companies
Cecil wants to take what he considers to be a great tradition and make it even greater. He joined The Biltmore Companies in July 2013 as project manager in the attraction experience & branded products division, after spending four years in investment banking. Cecil, who earned his bachelor of business administration degree from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., in 2010, hopes to apply his financial background to the hospitality and tourism business on the Biltmore Estate, built by his great-great-grandfather, George Vanderbilt, in Asheville, N.C., in 1895.
Cecil rotated from division to division at Biltmore during summers in addition to receiving traditional training. He also says the family council, which brings family members together twice a year to learn about the business, provides a valuable experience. "These meetings inspire people to keep the company in the family for generations to come and embrace the fun factor," he says.
Cecil specializes in corporate development. "I am working on projects that need thorough analysis, as well as working with civic leaders to piggyback on some of their projects," he says. He is looking at every aspect of the estate, which includes an inn, vineyards, a winery, walking and riding trails, gardens, restaurants and shops.
To bring the company into the future, Cecil says, he is trying to "take a step back [and] look at ways to increase guest satisfaction and turn Asheville into more than a one-day destination." Cecil's father, William A.V. ("Bill") Cecil Jr., Biltmore's CEO, has made the estate into a viable tourist attraction. The younger Cecil says he wants the spirit of the family business to flow through the community.
"Being part of this company is a great experience," Cecil says. "It can be challenging or a lot of fun to be with the family 24/7. Personally, I think it helps me to maintain my passion for the company, even though you have to watch what hat you wear and what you say."
Chase Pickering, 27
The Biltmore Companies
Born and raised in Asheville, N.C., Chase Pickering moved back in June 2014 to join his family's business as a fifth-generation steward of Biltmore House, which is believed to be America's largest private home. He wholeheartedly embraces his family's mission to preserve Biltmore as a privately owned, profitable, working estate. Pickering previously spent three years at the Walt Disney Company in Orlando, Fla., where he worked on the corporate citizenship team supporting the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 with a degree in strategic communications.
Pickering serves as project manager for the marketing team at The Biltmore Companies. New to the Biltmore team and excited to be home, Pickering supervises on-site communications, such as signs and printed collateral. The Biltmore Estate's 8,000-acre landscape offers him ample opportunities to apply his interest in protecting nature.
"The people who work here make the experience so amazing that guests want to come back," Pickering says. "We want to be stewards of an American treasure and preserve it for future generations." His goal is to "learn new ideas to stay relevant to guests and stay true to our mission."
Pickering currently serves on the board of directors of the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Previously, he was an adviser and board member at the Jane Goodall Institute, where he led the strategic growth and development of Goodall's Roots & Shoots global youth program. He has a keen interest in nature photography and has traveled the world documenting endangered wildlife and habitats. In 2009, he was a marketing and communications intern for Discovery Communications.
Between 2004 and 2011, Pickering was a corporate intern at Biltmore, where the employees "taught me amazing lessons and gave me some of my favorite memories," he recalls.
For Pickering, being part of a family business means that "you can take the time to learn together, have fun together and be open to new ideas." He stresses the importance of engaging the next generation early on while not forcing anyone to be part of the business. In his case, he adds, the desire to join came naturally.
Lauren Tracy, 34
Dot Foods Inc.
Tracy, a third-generation family member who serves as business development manager at Dot Foods Inc., says she trained for the job most of her life. She started working in the family business at 14, learned the culture of the company and earned an MBA. She worked for Kellogg Co. and USA Rugby before joining the family business.
The company, based in Mount Sterling, Ill., is the nation's largest food redistributor. Dot buys truckloads of food from manufacturers, consolidates products in its distribution centers and resells the products in smaller quantities to distributors. Today the company includes two divisions—food service and retail.
Tracy started her career with Dot as a district sales manager, covering territory in Colorado and New Mexico and focusing on increasing sales to food-service customers. After about a year and a half in that role, she was promoted to her present position. She now is involved in the retail side of the business, working with Dot's manufacturer partners to grow the health, beauty and wellness categories.
Company founder Robert Tracy and his wife, Dorothy, had 12 children, and now there are 75 members of the extended Tracy family. Lauren Tracy is one of five third-generation family members currently working in the company.
With such a large stakeholder group, there are challenges in ensuring that everyone stays engaged with the business, Tracy acknowledges. "While my generation is spread out all over the country, the company has to work at keeping the family together and the lines of communication open, train some people to be owners as opposed to managers and get to know each other on a personal level," she says.
Tracy is active on the family council and serves on the family foundation board. "The family business gives us a good reason to stay connected, but it's still a challenge," she says.
Tracy says one of the things she likes best about working at Dot Foods is "knowing that we're providing good jobs, impacting communities positively and being part of a multi-generation family business that brings value to people."
She recognizes that sustaining a family business over many generations involves planning and persistence. "Success comes with foresight and a thick skin," Tracy says. "It doesn't happen overnight."
Will Hollis, 24
Hollis & Sons
Hollis says he does not plan on working for his family business "as we know it today." He does hope to start other family businesses with his branch of the family in the future.
Hollis, who majored in family business at Stetson University, is a next-generation family member at Hollis & Sons, the family's investment vehicle. Previously, the Hollis family was involved in grocery stores. William ("Bill") Hollis was vice president and part owner of All American Grocery Co., which was acquired by the Publix chain in 1940. Bill's son Mark Hollis started working at Publix at age 13. Mark Hollis spent more than 50 years at the company, working his way up from bag boy to president. His three sons, including Will, all worked at Publix.
Will Hollis says he is helping his family enterprise move into the future by educating the next generation on the latest trends in family business. He gains satisfaction from the fact that it is his family's business, although he does not currently assume an active role in it.
"I have worked many different jobs," several of which have been in family businesses, Hollis says. "I plan on working for at least a few different family businesses before I start my own."
What has Hollis learned? "A simple answer, or observation really, would be that one can quit a job but one can not quit one's family," he says. "The added dynamic of working with family members, managers and owners that are all intertwined with each other is what sets family businesses apart from non-family businesses."
Sam Agnew, 33
The Agnew Company
Agnew sees himself as a steward whose responsibility it is to preserve a legacy and leave one for his own descendants. He is a fourth-generation family member of The Agnew Company, started by his great-grandfather, Samuel A. Agnew, as a timber business in the Northwest. Today, The Agnew Company is an investment management firm that manages a diversified portfolio of family holdings, including timberland, commercial real estate, private equity investments and securities.
Agnew, a graduate of the University of Kansas, spent his early days in Centralia, Wash., home of the original family office and legacy timber holdings. He grew up in the family business, working in the woods on the tree farm with his siblings and then for the family's beverage company. After college, he worked for the beverage company for a year and then oversaw and managed the commercial real estate portfolio.
At the end of 2013, Agnew sought "a new challenge in life" and left the family business to pursue other endeavors in Kansas City. He says he is now "in a discovery phase," looking into small real estate ventures and advising high-net-worth families and their children.
Agnew continues to serve many roles with his family. He is currently a board member at The Agnew Company, as well as a member of its family council. He serves on the family council's education committee and helps plan the biannual family assembly meetings.
"My biggest focus is how to educate shareholders to not just feel entitled but to choose their own path, feel blessed with the resources they have and impact the community while doing something they love," he says.
"You have to follow your heart, take chances, learn from mistakes and not be afraid of failure," Agnew adds. "I encourage people to create their own identities and be entrepreneurs, just as the previous generations of my family did."
Meredith Donaher, 25
Gault Energy & Stone
Donaher, a sixth-generation family employee at Gault Energy & Stone, says she wanted to work somewhere else before joining the family business, but "I knew I would end up here." The 151-year-old company, based in Westport, Conn., sells stone to builders and homeowners. The company also sells oil, propane and generators to homeowners and is involved in real estate development.
Donaher, who started at Gault Energy in November 2013, serves as Gault's marketing associate and an associate for the family real estate branch, Hamilton Development. After graduating from Dickinson College in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in international business and management, she spent two years working at an interior design magazine in the marketing and events department.
Donaher and her older sister, Megan, were the first two female family members and the first of the sixth generation to join the business full-time. Even though she worked mostly with women in her last job, she says she found the transition to a primarily male environment to be easy. "Additionally, there are not a lot of young people in this business or this industry," she says. "We bring a different generation's view of technology into the business, and it's nice for my father and my uncle to get that perspective."
As part of the family's next generation, whose ages range from 11 to 28, Donaher is trying to educate herself on the practices adopted by other successful family businesses. She says she has been trying to put new procedures into place and talking to the family about expectations for family members.
"We need to have open communications and a plan when someone from the family comes into the business, because it's a different situation from that of a regular employee," Donaher says. "We're also trying to figure out how this generation can have a lasting impact on the environment and society, just as our ancestors did."
Brandon McVaugh, 32
Laboratory Testing Inc.
McVaugh spent five years working outside the family business, in accordance with Laboratory Testing's family employment policy. But, having started helping out in the family business at age 12, he knew he would be back. "I have not thought about working at another company," McVaugh says.
As a teenager, McVaugh worked in various roles within the organization. After college he held various operational roles at Vanguard, a large investment company, where he received training in personnel management and continuous improvement.
Today, McVaugh serves as manager of mechanical testing and specimen machining at the 30-year-old family company, a materials testing laboratory in Hatfield, Pa. He leads the mechanical testing, machining services and contract review departments. "I have been working with the management team on an operational strategy that will help us improve operational efficiency to further strengthen customer relationships and build our reputation as a leader in the industry," he says. He also participates in the company's quarterly board meetings.
"I am a member of Vistage, a business networking organization that helps CEOs and executives grow their businesses by making better decisions and achieving better results," McVaugh says. "Every month I mentor with my Vistage chair and attend Vistage meetings to learn from other business executives, who are mostly non-family members working for family businesses. This provides me with a point of view from a non-family executive, which is a neat perspective."
McVaugh said he likes "seeing that we are making a difference and achieving our goals. . .whether it be with the business, our employees, our customers, family or the community." He has learned that "Working in a family business brings a unique set of challenges, because you wear the family hat and the business hat. You have to be aware of what hat you are wearing, and you have to be able to separate the two to move forward and achieve goals."
Mike Hiller, 33
Laboratory Testing Inc.
Hiller serves as director of marketing and new business development at Laboratory Testing. To comply with the company's family employment policy, which requires family members to work outside the business for five years before joining the company, he was a high school teacher and then managed a small pizza restaurant.
Hiller trained for his current role in the company by managing its metrology division, which involved sales responsibility. He also has been pursuing an MBA in executive management at DeSales University and is working toward receiving his degree in December.
"As a company, we are going through a transition from our traditional sales model into a new venture of having a marketing machine that drives our sales and new business opportunities," Hiller says. "I have been building and designing our activities in marketing and sales by developing workflows and processes through our customer relationship management program that can help us work smarter now and in the future. I truly love putting in all of my effort to see the outcomes that move our company in a positive direction."
Hiller reports that he has learned that being part of a family business "can be challenging at times, and you have greater responsibilities than you would working for someone else."
He adds, "There is a lot of work that has to go into building policies and accountability for family employees and stakeholders. But with this you are continuing to build on a legacy, that in our case, my grandfather started 30 years ago."
Patrick Mullen, 26
Canal Insurance Company
Canal Insurance of Greenville, S.C., which provides commercial trucking and auto insurance, was founded by Mullen's great-grandfather, William R. Timmons Sr., and is now professionally managed. Mullen, a member of the family council, says the company aspires to develop "an engaged group of family shareholders." He says his most important role as a council member is to help his generation achieve effective governance and active participation as good stewards of the 75-year-old family business.
As education chair of the seven-member family council, Mullen coordinates participation at family business conferences and creates webinars. While his mother's generation had only 14 family members, his generation encompasses more than 50, ranging in age from 50+ to teenagers. "My job is to engage the fourth generation and put together meaningful educational opportunities to get people to participate and feel connected and have fun at the same time," explains Mullen, who was one of the first in the fourth generation to be elected to the family council.
As a new council member, Mullen recalls, he jumped in and learned by doing. "Now that we have connectivity with everyone of different ages and backgrounds, we have level playing fields, lively discussions and full, knowledgeable participation in the family assembly by everyone over 21—people who are eligible to vote on initiatives," he says.
Mullen has never worked for the company and probably will never work there, because he is so passionate about his day job. As associate director of the James Lee Sorenson Center for Global Impact Investing at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, he works with foundations to underwrite early-stage investments for entrepreneurial companies that are likely to have positive social outcomes. Family foundation dynamics surrounding investments are similar to family business dynamics, he says.
Mullen says family councils must hold management accountable and manage family relationships. Council members shouldn't oversimplify the process, he cautions. "Different layers of knowledge require time and appropriate communications," he comments, "so be patient and learn to deal with different personalities."
Maggie Tucker, 30
IDEAL Industries Inc.
Founded in 1916 by J. Walter Becker, IDEAL Industries Inc. has more than 1,200 employees and offers more than 6,000 products for a range of customers, including electrical contractors, data communications technicians and production engineers. The company, which is based in Sycamore, Ill., has 49 owners, partners and spouses from the second through fifth generations.
Now the family is working on a transition plan to move into the future, thanks to some innovations instituted by fourth-generation family members, according to Tucker, a G4 who serves as chair of the family assembly. She held several committee roles before assuming the leadership position.
While no fourth-generation members are involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, the family has renewed its commitment to continue IDEAL as a family-owned company, Tucker reports. The company takes a "three-legged stool" approach, in which the family, the board and company management work as partners.
A 12-member family council meets quarterly and plans annual meetings, executes family strategy and prepares the fourth generation for leadership roles. Four task forces, chaired by G4s, address critical issues. Second- and third-generation family members have endowed a fund to educate the fourth generation.
"I get a lot of satisfaction when family members who have not been previously engaged take an interest in the business," Tucker says.
Tucker, whose work experience is in the non-profit sector, credits the Family Business Stewardship Institute at Loyola University in Chicago with helping to train her for her role in the family business. She reports that it is illuminating to hear other members of business families discuss their experiences. "You can learn so much from talking to each other," she says. "There are variables, such as family dynamics, but you can learn about yourself by talking to other people."
Kyle York, 31
Indian Head Athletics
York's maternal grandfather founded Indian Head Shoe Company. His parents, Don and Gail, took over in 1980 and changed the name to Indian Head Athletics. The company evolved from athletic shoes and ice skates (including skates worn by Peggy Fleming and cleats worn by Johnny Unitas and O.J. Simpson) into athletic equipment and apparel and gear for teams, leagues, camps, schools and other organizations.
Now York and his four brothers—Travis, Evan, Tyler and Dylan—plan to license the Indian Head brand from their parents, Don and Gail, and move it in a new direction, transforming the Manchester, N.H.-based business into a fashion and lifestyle company distributed via e-commerce, retail partnerships and a flagship store in Manchester. They are working with a marketing team and a group of advisers to help them develop plans for Indian Head's product design branding and marketing.
"I've been involved with Indian Head my whole life as an employee, shareholder and supporter," York says. "I want to carry the York legacy with a next-generation company. Although the family business was created in 1946, it has had a couple of renditions. My brothers and I are in the process of launching the next one. I'm a board member, partner and investor in the new, evolved entity."
York is also involved in numerous other business activities. He serves as chief revenue officer at Dyn, an Internet performance company, where he leads the overall sales, business development, customer service and marketing efforts. An angel investor and entrepreneur, he is a co-founder of music and brand alignment agency "1band 1brand"; chairman of Alpha Loft, a New Hampshire entrepreneurship non-profit organization; and a board member of Rock On Foundation, the charity of National Basketball Association player Matt Bonner and his brother, Luke. York is also an adviser to and investor in several startups, all Dyn clients and partners. He has been a speaker at many universities and at technology conferences throughout the world. He holds a B.S. in marketing from Bentley University.
"I am driven by creating a lasting legacy that my kids and grandkids will be proud of—just as I look at my parents and grandparents before them with great admiration," York says. "Every generation should aim to create a greater foundation or platform for growth for the next one. That's what building a long-lasting family legacy is all about."
Howard Holmes, 25
Chelsea Milling Company
When Holmes joined the family business last year, he went through the same "detox program" all new employees undergo to shed preconceived notions of how companies work. "Anyone who gets hired goes through all the departments and observes the way we run as an operation," Holmes explains. "Everyone here has a voice. This is a non-hierarchical company where decisions don't filter down from the top."
Chelsea Milling Company has packaged its "JIFFY" brand of baking mixes in essentially the same blue boxes since the 1930s. The company eschews advertising, embracing the philosophy that value speaks for itself. The Chelsea, Mich., company produces 22 "JIFFY" mixes, mills its own grain and makes its own boxes. In 2007, Chelsea Milling expanded into the institutional and food-service markets in addition to home baking.
Holmes, who serves as a sales associate, grew up around the business. Following in the footsteps of his father—Howard "Howdy" Holmes, Chelsea Milling's president and CEO, who was an Indianapolis 500 racecar driver—he was involved in professional motor sports.
Holmes, an only child, spent a lot of time with his father, gaining a "firm understanding of the company and learning the business from the inside out" before studying economics and management.
Holmes says he enjoys working alongside his father and being an ambassador for the company. "I'm comfortable being straightforward with my father, sometimes telling him things he might not want to hear, but that are important to move the company forward," he comments. "For instance, I helped to develop a rating system for interviewees as another tool in the tool belt."
Andrew Russ, 30
Russ was the first fourth-generation family member to join Granger, which is based in Lansing, Mich., and provides trash hauling and disposal services, landfill management, recycling and composting centers and landfill energy production. He has fond memories of working alongside his great-grandfather, Keith Granger Sr. "He could work circles around me and was the hardest-working man I ever met," says Russ, who currently serves as Granger's central purchasing coordinator.
After graduating from Hope College with a bachelor of arts degree in business management, Russ spent seven years as a buyer for the company, which employs 220 associates. He has served in his present position for a year, researching and purchasing parts for all areas of the company and managing inventory levels. He is responsible for software implementation for Granger's energy services facilities, a role that includes training others and assisting with the development of policies and procedures.
Russ says he never considered working elsewhere. He says he derives satisfaction from "seeing how many lives are impacted by the company." He adds, "We create jobs for a lot of people, supply good service to our customer base and affect the lives of both employees and customers."
Russ says he also enjoys working on the operations side of the company and interacting with third-generation family members, who are based in offices across the street. He also participates in the family council, which he regards as an effective bridge between older family members and his generation.
He offers this advice to next-generation members considering joining their families' businesses: "Be ready to separate family life and work life. Decisions made at work can't affect family life. The family is the most important thing."
Russ says he hopes to see his own children involved in the company someday. "I'm happy where I am, and I'd like to keep it going," he says.
Joel Hofman, 26
Hofman's career at Granger has progressed literally from the ground up. While a student at Hope College, he spent summers working in landfills at his family's business.
Hofman, a fourth-generation family member, earned a business degree and served an internship at Sparrow Health System in Lansing. His time at Sparrow gave him a chance to "see how other people manage their company" and enabled him to receive training in data management, Hofman says.
Hofman became operations supervisor for Granger's recycling and disposal center in Jackson, Mich., in February. Doing jobs he now supervises—working in a landfill, driving a truck, picking rocks and performing other labor—was "invaluable training," Hofman says. That experience has enabled him to understand the employees' perspective and earn their trust, reflects Hofman, who manages the facility's drivers and laborers.
Hofman, who previously operated out of Lansing as an administrative assistant, collecting and analyzing data to increase drivers' efficiency, says he relishes the idea of being in a new location. He says he is eager to "explore a new landscape and bring new standards of service to a new area." He adds, "I am truly thankful to be in this spot, working with family members on a professional level."
A Granger driver just retired after 42 years, a tenure not typical in waste management, Hofman relates. He lauds the "moral quality" of the company and says he is proud that his family business provides customers with good service, offers employees a good lifestyle and generous benefits and is committed to "treating people right."
He says he appreciates that third-generation family members are meeting regularly with the fourth generation to discuss business, finance and money management and to guide them in their career paths.
While not all family members are part of the business, some members who don't work in the company participate in the family council. There are board meetings four times a year, and family events are held at least twice a year. "The important thing is that everybody knows what's going on in the business," Hofman says.
Garrett Russ, 27
Russ, the driver supervisor at Granger, began his career at the Lansing, Mich.-based company when he was 14 years old and joined the family firm full-time after graduating from Hope College in 2009. He supervises 110 people and troubleshoots breakdowns for the 48-year-old environmental services business.
"It's great to draw energy out of waste and use it as fuel," Russ says.
Russ, who notes that he always wanted to work for the family business and "was not pulled in any other direction," enjoys the operations side of the company. He says he wants to facilitate the company's long-term plans, and he believes that working alongside the people he now supervises gave him a real understanding of the problems they face.
Russ says he likes seeing family members every day. He reports that he's developed a special relationship with family members who work at the company and have shared experiences.
"The most important thing is to put the family ahead of the business," Russ says. "Keep the family at the center of things. If the family is being torn apart by the business, it's not worth it. Here we all get along, and everybody is kept in the loop."
Kayla Campagna, 22
Campagna graduated from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in June with a bachelor of science in zoology and will be starting a two-year program in veterinary technology at the university's Ridgetown College campus this fall.
Campagna is a third-generation member of the family that owns Toronto-based Rowntree Enterprises, which began in the automotive industry and has since evolved into real estate development. Her grandfather started the company in 1968.
She says she's helping Rowntree Enterprises move into the future "by preparing myself early to contribute to the company when the time comes for me to be integrated into its day-to-day workings."
She describes her training to eventually work in the company as "largely self-taught trial-and-error, focusing on communication among the family members and organizing schedules."
Campagna worked in food service at Lakeside Lodge, a resort in Minett, Ontario, which her parents owned and operated for 13 years. In addition to working at the resort's restaurant, Windows on Rousseau, she has held jobs in three other restaurants. Recently, she co-founded a new venture: Opterra Farms in Muskoka, Ontario, which raises and processes crickets for human consumption as an alternative protein source.
Campagna says there are many reasons why she likes being part of a family business, "but if I were to choose only one, I would say that I enjoy the familial connection we experience during our meetings when everyone is in attendance. It is truly wonderful to see all of the family members contributing their different points of view on present issues, even though our ages span from ten to 80. Also, when we are all in the same room during our meetings, the love is almost tangible."
She adds, "The most important thing that I have learned about being part of my family business is to listen and to have an open mind to the ideas of others. That, and respect your elders."
Jason Percifield, 31
Founded in 1964 in Gillette, Wyo., by Leon Wandler with only six employees, L&H Industrial today has offices on four continents. The company, which initially served the oil industry by repairing drilling equipment, now specializes in heavy equipment repair for the mining industry. It also offers machining and fabrication services; one of its projects was building and assembling parts for a NASA Crawler Transporter. The company is now run by two of Leon Wandler's sons; seven family members work in the business.
Percifield, welding shop manager and a third-generation owner of L&H, started with the company in 2001 when he turned 18 and became a minority owner in 2009. He reports that he received most of his training on the job.
Percifeld developed L&H's field service division into a profitable unit of the company. "I have a knack for knowing where we can diversify," he reflects. "We're as big as it gets in terms of equipment and capabilities, and it's gotten to the point where people see us as their 'go-to' company."
Percifeld says he never wanted to work anywhere else. "I get satisfaction out of seeing what my grandfather did for us and our kids, and I'd like to see my own kids working here someday," Percifield says. But there are challenges for those who are part of a family business, he notes. "The expectations are high, you have to perform all the time and it can be tough to separate family from work." His family has created a bonding activity, he reports: "We have an annual fishing trip to do business planning. It's about half business and half social."
L&H's culture and values make the company stand out from its competitors, according to Percifield. "The company is open, transparent and honest and lets the employees think for themselves," he says. "Also, motivation comes from the top down. When employees see that the owners are the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave, it makes them want to work harder."
Alex Schwan, 23
The Schwan Food Company
Schwan is one of 14 third-generation owners of his family business, a multi-billion-dollar company that sells branded frozen food through home delivery, the food-service industry and grocery stores. No family members currently work in the company, which is based in Marshall, Minn.
Schwan, a business student at Northeastern University and a candidate for the CFA (chartered financial analyst) certification, says he is "working at developing communication practices in the family and developing into someone who can work anywhere." He is involved in Northeastern's Center for Family Business.
Schwan, who attends classes for half the year and works the other half, has held positions at Morgan Stanley, The Institute for Preparing Heirs, EquipNet and various philanthropies. He once worked as a route driver for his family business.
The company was started in the 1940s by Schwan's grandfather, Marvin Schwan, who began by selling ice cream door-to-door. Before the founder died, he set up trusts to keep ownership in the family. While the second-generation owners interact with company managers, the third generation participates in monthly family conference calls, quarterly family assemblies and annual family reunions to stay connected and become familiar with the business.
Schwan says the family believes the next-generation members should get experience and do "what we're comfortable doing." He adds, "For me, that means trying to get the family communicating and working together, as well as doing everything I can to be a productive member of society."
What advice does Schwan have for other next-generation family members? "Development is the key," he says. "Never try to make yourself fit into a mold. Instead, make yourself happy and find the mold that fits you. If you're not happy with what you're doing, you're not going to be enthusiastic. You have to understand yourself and constantly learn."
Kyle Fernley, 30
Fernley & Fernley Inc.
Ever since T. James Fernley founded the firm in 1886 and pioneered the concept of an association management company, Fernley & Fernley has been supporting organization leaders in managing day-to day-functions, while providing creative solutions to help sustain the associations. The company got a boost when the National Recovery Act of 1933 encouraged trade associations to protect small businesses.
Fifth-generation family member Kyle Fernley came into the Philadelphia-based business in 2010 as executive director. Fernley knew from the age of five that he wanted to be part of the business, but he did not want to act as if he had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. After he graduated from the University of Colorado, he worked for a competitor "to understand the business from another perspective."
When he arrived at Fernley & Fernley, he started at the bottom as administrative director for two associations. "When your name is on the door, some people will welcome you, and others will view you as a threat," Fernley says. "I knew I had to work hard to prove myself for the long run."
Fernley says he has worked hard to learn every aspect of the business, which currently manages more than 20 trade and professional organizations, mostly in the medical arena. He says one of the company's strengths is its meeting planning department. "Taking an unhappy customer and putting a smile on his face is one of the best parts of my job," Fernley says.
"Being in a family business is two different jobs—learning the culture and learning the industry," Fernley says. "You have to understand and appreciate both. There's family business and business family, and you have to earn your stripes with management, colleagues and clients."
Fernley says he feels lucky to have a good relationship with his father, president and CEO G.A. Taylor Fernley. He describes his father as his best friend and says is comfortable going into his dad's office to have a business or personal conversation.
"I would be happy to bring a sixth generation into the business, too," Fernley says.
Kelly Conklin, 34
Gordon's Window Décor
Conklin, the chief operating officer at Gordon's Window Décor, says she wears "a ton of hats" at the company, which is based in Williston, Vt., and was founded by her father, Gordon Clements, in 1986. She manages the retail team, works with her father to shape the vision of the business, develops systems and processes and focuses on "making sure we have raving fans internally and externally."
Conklin says her personality complements her father's. "He's a risk taker, so I temper his ideas and help focus on core competencies," she explains. "I bring the structure to help us be poised to take advantage of a growth phase by creating a firm foundation." Conklin's husband, Rob Conklin, trained as a civil engineer, also works for the company as the lead installer. "The ability to bounce things off of each other adds a rich element to the family dynamic," she says.
Conklin studied film at Syracuse University and worked at a production company in Washington, D.C., after graduation. Eventually, she decided that a film career was not for her and returned home. She became intrigued by the family business and started working there without pressure from her parents—"at the front desk, in order entry, in web design, in purchasing, everything but making draperies," she recalls.
To acquire business fundamentals, she took a one-semester course in basic management at the University of Vermont and received professional certification. Her primary training has been on the job at the 25-person company, which participates in the Vermont Family Business Initiative, a network of family business owners that is based at the university.
Conklin says she gets satisfaction from "being part of a company that rocks." She adds, "The fact that it's my family is the cherry on top." Conklin also says she's delighted to play a major role in setting the direction of the company at an early age.
"If people are nervous about joining the family business, I would advise them to give it a shot," she says. "It's a great way to have an impact on the business as well as the family relationship and see family members in a whole new light."
Anders Lundberg, 26
Lundberg Family Farms
Lundberg always knew he wanted to carry on Lundberg Family Farms' values. "I enjoyed seeing how the family treated others and how people viewed them," he says.
Lundberg Family Farms, based in Richvale, Calif., grows more than 17 varieties of rice and markets more than 150 rice products. The company, run by the third generation, is committed to taking care of the environment. The enterprise uses sustainable farming methods, and a large portion of the energy that powers the facilities comes from renewable sources.
Lundberg graduated from California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo in 2011 with a degree in crop science and minors in agribusiness and plant protection science. After graduation, he started at the family business as the farm technician, becoming the first fourth-generation family member to work at the company full-time. Initially he was responsible for operating equipment during the planting and harvest seasons, irrigating half the farm's acreage during the growing season and compiling and analyzing data over the winter.
A little less than a year ago, Lundberg was promoted to farm operations coordinator. He oversees all of the irrigation on the company's grounds, coordinates day-to-day farm operations throughout the year, collects and analyzes data and performs administrative duties.
Lundberg's great grandfather, Albert Lundberg, came to California from Nebraska in 1937. The soil in Nebraska had deteriorated over time because of drought and mismanagement during the Dust Bowl years. "Grandpa Albert was going to do whatever he could to leave his ground in better shape than when he found it," Lundberg says.
Albert Lundberg instilled in his four sons a commitment to environmental stewardship. The family started growing organic rice in the late 1960s. Since the early 1980s, the company has sold products under the Lundberg Family Farms name. The business has grown along with the market for organic and naturally produced foods. Under the leadership of the third generation, the company has been recognized for its good corporate citizenship.
"I love what I do. Being out in the fields and getting dirty—working at it and doing it better—never get old," Anders Lundberg says. "I'm happy where I am." His nine-month-old son, Gavin, is the first—and, so far, the only—fifth-generation member of the Lundberg family.
Brad Clemens, 32
The Clemens Family Corporation
Founded in 1895 by John C. Clemens and headquartered in Hatfield, Pa., The Clemens Family Corporation operates businesses in pork processing, logistics, transportation and real estate. There are more than 650 descendants of the founder. About 250 of those family members are shareholders, and 20 work for the company.
Brad Clemens serves as vice president of research and development at the company. His responsibilities include developing and commercializing products, creating marketing programs and monitoring quality control.
Clemens studied law and—in keeping with the company's policy that family members must work outside the business for two years before being hired, and that they must be qualified for a legitimate open position in order to join—first worked for a large international law firm, where he "learned about high-profile, high-stakes businesses." He joined his family firm in April 2011.
"It's important to keep the family separate from work, but it's impossible," Clemens says. "It's a good thing to find a middle ground. Many of our customers can relate to the situation, because they are also family businesses." A family council was created during the past year with each branch of the family represented.
Another recent innovation is the Family Leadership Council, which was created to give younger-generation family members and shareholders who are not part of the business a chance to learn about the company in a more in-depth way. "It targets the teens and 'twenty-somethings' and teaches them about the company as they work their way through high school and college," Clemens says.
Clemens has set goals for his progression in the company and in the family. "I hope to bring my leadership and analytical skills and my ability to collaborate with the leadership team to set strategy and vision for the company," he says. "I want to help others grow by being a good listener and providing candid advice. I also want my own son to treat his shareholder status as an heirloom—something to treasure, be proud of and not take for granted."
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