Succession: Successor Motivation/Training

Dueling Perspectives: Helping a NextGen employee to succeed

The Renfrew Center, founded in 1985 by Sam Menaged as an eating disorder treatment center in Philadelphia, today encompasses 19 facilities in 13 states and has treated more than 75,000 women.

Sam, 70, the president, works alongside his daughter Vanessa, 36, vice president of marketing and professional relations. Vanessa started with the family business as a student intern during the summer. After working on Capitol Hill as the executive assistant to former U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), she joined Renfrew full-time 10 years ago. Today, she is a member of the executive team and the clinical excellence board.

We asked the father and daughter: What are the keys to developing a NextGen family employee for success as a potential future executive in the family business?

Sam Menaged:

“By the time [your children] reach an age where you might consider bringing them into the business, you hopefully are able to assess their strengths and weaknesses, as far as how they might fit into the business situation that you have.

“Vanessa has always expressed an interest in the business, from shredding and copying when she was 7 years old. She sought me out; I didn’t seek her out. I was never the kind of parent who expected any of my children to come into the business, but she expressed an interest, and I was very glad.

“She worked in a different building from me for a long time. What she brought to the business was, obviously, much more awareness of social media [and] of her generation, millennials. So in some ways I just had to trust her.

“She’s very well-spoken, very thoughtful. I’m a little more impulsive, I would say, being the entrepreneurial type.She’s a little more measured, although she certainly has an ebullient personality. I sometimes am much more goal-driven and direct. She’s got a way of working with people that’s different from mine. It’s a real skill, certainly, in the behavioral health world, to be able to relate to people that way. She’ll advise me in ways that I think help me communicate better with my staff.

“She and I have the kind of relationship where she asks my opinion, she tells me her opinion and we work things out by consensus. I probably have never raised my voice or said, ‘You really screwed up’ or anything like that. It’s part of life. She’s learning, she’s growing. Nothing she can do can be a fatal flaw to the business. So I basically work by trying to mentor her.

“No business can be static and survive. It has to adapt. And so I am a risk-taker, and I’ve encouraged her to always try something new.

“As I’m getting older, I’ll take more extensive vacations. And she basically can run the show.”

Vanessa Menaged:

“One of the things [my father] taught me early on is that I needed to really learn the business inside and out. The way that we did it is that I have rotated throughout the company.

“I started in the HR department, which is so crucial to this business. By starting in HR, I was involved in interviewing job candidates, I had to learn local labor and employment regulations, I learned how to build teams. That set the foundation for my understanding of the company.

“From there, I was able to transition into doing business development work. That led to marketing, which is where I moved to next. I added our call center, and then our admissions department.

“Rotating through the company helped me contribute in meetings, and be viewed by other people in the company as someone with a lot of knowledge that I can share with them.

“When I first started at the company, he felt it was important that I reported to somebody else, so that I wasn’t seen as having special privileges. Over time, as I started moving into business development, I naturally was in more meetings with him, and it’s been a gradual process. At this point, my office is next to his, I’m talking to him throughout the entire day, we’re working on many, many projects together.

“There’s the advantage and a disadvantage to [being the founder’s daughter]. The advantage that I see is that he has done every role in this company. Everything that I did, he’s been involved in. But it also means that I’ve had to figure out when to make my own decisions and when to talk to him about them.

“I think one of the things that my father had me do which was really helpful was go out and have other business experience. I think if I hadn’t had that and I had come straight into the business, the transition probably wouldn’t have gone as well. Having that work life before coming here really helped with that transition, and made me appreciate the advantages to being here.”

Copyright 2018 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact


Old vines lead to new fruit

You could say the Lange twins of Lodi, Calif., are intoxicated by the grape growing business. Randall and Brad Lange represent the fourth generation to farm their family's land. About a decade ago they took the next step and built a winery. Now all five of the twins' children work in the family business, LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards.

The Langes have been farming in Lodi since the 1870s. Johann and Maria Lange started out as watermelon farmers. The family moved into grape growing in 1916, under second-generation leader Albert Lange and his son, Harold. Fourth-generation twins Randall and Brad Lange, now 67, began farming on their own in 1974 and expanded into winemaking in 2006.

The oldest fifth-generation member, Randall's daughter Marissa Lange, 39, is president of the winery. The family has set up governance structures to smooth the way for a partnership among the cousins and, potentially, the sixth generation.

"We certainly knew, growing up, that the family survived by the farm," Marissa says. "The business got started a few years before I was born, and our parents invested every dime they had."

LangeTwins grows grapes and also manages vineyards for clients. The company produces wine from its vineyards and provides custom winemaking and private-label bottling services.

Going against the grain

The twins' father, Harold, was born in 1920, four years after the family started growing grapes. Harold had worked closely with his father, Albert. The family tradition continued when Harold's sons—Randall and Brad and their older brother, Stanton—joined him on the farm.

But conflicts arose over ownership and authority. The twins decided to form their own venture, and Stanton established a separate business on a different part of the family property. Their father, Harold, wasn't pleased with the transition; he retired soon after his sons bought and divided the rest of the farm.

"My dad retired because he was disappointed," Randall says. "It was his vision and dream to work with his sons. When it didn't work out, he withdrew." Harold passed in 2002.

As twins, Randall and Brad were always close, and they were eager to go into business together. Brad, the administrative expert, handled logistics, finances and orders. Randall, the viticulture expert, worked in the field from early morning until late in the evening. Neither twin has ever had an official title, Randall says.

"I really can't speak with authority because I've never been anything but a twin, but we spend so much time together," Randall says. "We know how we react and how we respond. We build off each other's energy."

Brad says that at first, there wasn't a clear separation between in-the-office and in-the-fields. When harvest time came, both men spent days and weeks at a time in the field.

The twins aren't always completely in synch, Randall notes. "Brad and I have had disagreements, significant disagreements," he says. "The strength we have, that a lot of other businesses don't, is we know we're better working together than apart. We have a means and procedure to address issues, and we address them and then we move on."

"We're not looking over each other's shoulders," Brad says. "We didn't have time for that. Our main objective was to build a family heritage. We wanted to continue what our dad built with his good reputation and name."

The high level of trust between the twins gave each man a high degree of autonomy in his area of responsibility. "One person took the lead—small decisions were made individually," Randall says. For example, he says, Brad secured the loans and negotiated the contracts, and he signed the documents without question.

Family fortification

Randall depended on his wife, Charlene, and Brad on his wife, Susan, to keep the family afloat practically and financially while the brothers made a go of their own vineyard. Both wives had full-time jobs. Charlene now works with Randall as a brand ambassador; Susan still works in the vineyard's business office with Brad.

"We all did our part where we could," says Marissa. She remembers bringing dinner to her father as he worked in the vineyard.

Harold didn't approve of his twin sons' decision to use a mechanical harvester. "My grandfather sat there and just shook his head no," Marissa says. "He said they were ruining the vineyard."

Harold also didn't see the value in instituting sustainable farming techniques, which Randall and Brad introduced about 30 years ago.

"We have a real strong stance on sustainable farming—generational farming," Randall says. "In my great-grandfather's and grandfather's day, when they bought property, they cleared it from end to end and farmed it."

The twins removed a section of vines in order to restore a streambed in one area of the farm, Randall says. Insecticides and weed killers are no longer used on the vines.

"We're careful how we manage our vineyards," Randall says. "There are no unintended consequences [of our farming] that we know of, but we don't know for sure. We need to continue progressing. The grandkids will be farming under different conditions than I did. And they're going to have to figure out how to stay in business."

A different varietal of business

While their father had delivered his harvest to a winemaking co-op, Randall and Brad decided to use the grapes to make their own wine. Starting a winery was also a great way to bring in more Gen 5 family members. Randall focused on the winery, while Brad continued as head of operations at the vineyard. The winery uses only LangeTwins grapes (except for its Zinfandel, which is made from grapes grown by a family with whom the Langes are close).

Marissa joined the business in the spring of 2005 to help the family start the winery. She earned an undergraduate degree in neuroscience from Brown University and says she originally had no interest in joining the family business.

"I was a tried-and-true girl from a small town and knew two things," she recalls. "One, I was definitely not going to work in the wine industry and, two, I was definitely not going to move back to Lodi."

But while she was studying, Marissa discovered that the industry offered a career opportunity she'd enjoy. During the summers, she worked in the lab of a noted sensory scientist at the University of California, Davis.

"The wine industry is a wonderful, small, but global segment of business that is rich in personal relationships, and I love that very much," Marissa says. She got her feet wet working in the marketing department of large, global wineries, including Treasury Wine Estates in Napa, Calif. Her experience in the corporate wine world served the family well as it planned to open its own winery.

"We began with my father and I being shoulder to shoulder in every decision. It moved naturally to me making those decisions independently," Marissa says. "It wasn't a bright white line for us, but I recognize and know that for quite some time, decision making has rested on my shoulders, and under that I have the support of the family."

The addition of the winery proved to be a success. "The business was able to really grow, and it really grew a lot over the years," Randall says. The winery's "crush capacity" has grown 188% in 10 years.

LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards' first vintage was a 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. The family now has three additional labels: Caricature, Sand Point and Ivory & Burt. Their wines are distributed in California, Texas, Utah, Colorado and the Midwest.

The family understood that wine was a difficult business to break into, Brad says. In addition to producing wine from their own grapes, they make money by providing services to other winemakers. Their bottling facility filled 1.5 million cases last year.

LangeTwins' winery produced 6 million gallons of wine in 2016. About 75,000 cases' worth (approximately 178,000 gallons) were bottled under a LangeTwins label.

Cultivating a new vintage

Randall says he hasn't had any problem ceding control. "I'm living the life, because I see my kids every single day and I see my grandchildren, and it can't get any better than that," Randall says. "I really look at my job in this family business and my primary job is to get out of the way. The fifth generation of Langes need to make the decisions. It's not for me or Brad or Susan or Char. It's for their children and their grandchildren."

Marissa says she will never stop feeling like "the daughter" and "the niece," but that's something she embraces.

"Without family, it's just a business," she says. "I look at my father, mother, aunt and uncle as mentors."

Randall has embraced his role as an adviser. "I can be a touchstone," he says. "Marissa will walk into my office and say, 'Dad what do you think about this?' I give her my opinion—sometimes she uses it, abbreviates it or ignores it."

Working with Marissa on the winery side are her brother, Joseph Lange, 34, who handles international sales, and her cousin, Kendra Altnow, 35, who worked with her at Treasury Wine Estates and now has marketing duties at LangeTwins.

Brad's son Philip Lange, 37, and Randall's son Aaron Lange, 37, work in viticulture operations.

Brad and Randall's relationship is so close that they are neighbors as well as business partners. Their kids grew up together, more like siblings than cousins. This built a bond, Marissa says, adding there is no rivalry in the clan.

The family realized that the fifth generation would need governance structures to ensure family harmony and set the stage for business continuity.

They established a 12-member advisory board; three of the advisory board members are outsiders. There is also a family council, which meets to "address, nurture and develop our relationships," Marissa says.

The Langes have created a family charter, which Marissa describes as "rules of the road and values that guide decision making and interacting."

Many of the Langes' policies were established to prevent them from suffering the fate of other wine families who failed to plan, Marissa says.

"One of two major things that has to be addressed is entitlement," Randall says. "There is none. You're paid the wage that you can be paid for the work you do."

Randall, Charlene, Brad and Susan own 2% of the land. Everything else—the land, the vines and "all that stainless steel, the business and the brand," as Brad puts it—is owned by the fifth generation.

Brad says it's important for the next generation to have "skin in the game." Having ownership gives them the ultimate motivation to succeed, he says.

The family charter includes a compensation policy. Family members are compensated according to their level of participation in LangeTwins. At this point, all of the fifth-generation members are involved in the business. There are seven sixth-generation family members, ranging in age from 1 to 10. An eighth G6 is on the way.

The fruits of their labor

Randall has stepped back from running day-to-day operations. In their role as brand ambassadors, he and Charlene host a number of events at the winery, often inviting up-and-coming chefs to prepare the meals. They also travel the country presenting wine dinners, where they share their family story along with their family wines.

Randall says he and Charlene love the off-site wine dinners. "I consider it my best contribution," he says. "The people in those states aren't used to seeing the principals of a winery. They are thrilled to see me, which always surprises me."

"My dad likes to say I promoted him to sales," Marissa says with a laugh. Her mother worked for the town of Lodi, running the community center and overseeing the construction of a new one before retiring. "When she retired out of that role, I scooped her up after the winery was created. My mother is a phenomenal brand ambassador."

Brad says you can't name a business "LangeTwins" and not make both brothers available, so he, too, travels and hosts wine dinners and talks with distributors. But his schedule is limited at harvest.

"We go where Kendra asks us to go, but payday comes in August, September, October," Brad says. That's when he has to be in Lodi.

"I might be right in the middle of Chardonnay harvest, and Merlot is right on its heels," Brad says. "Sometimes I'll go if I can be back the next day."

Brad and Susan go into the office just about every day, but are leaving the decision making to the next generation. They see themselves as advisers.

"You spend 40 years building a business, and then all of a sudden you have to give it up," Brad says. "You have to realize it's a very healthy thing for a business.

Aaron, Brad's son, worked with his father for years before taking a leading role in viticulture operations. "Aaron was my right hand, when he first joined the company," Brad says. "These last few years, I've been Aaron's right hand."

When he's not traveling or hosting wine dinners, Randall spends quiet moments at the vineyard, admiring what he and his family have accomplished.

"I drive from my home to the winery," he says. "I pull into the gate, turn off my pickup and I look at it in total amazement. I had no idea we'd be where we are today. I look back to my dad, and our winery is larger than the winery where he delivered the grapes, and that was a co-op of 40 families. He would've thought we've lost our minds for taking this risk."

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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A step-by-step path to leadership at Perryman

How did a small African-American-owned homebuilder from Alabama end up as one of the leading construction companies in Philadelphia, Pa., whose projects have included major sites like the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles?

Angelo R. Perryman, the second-generation president and CEO of Perryman Building and Construction Services, uses the mantra that originated with his father, Jimmie Lee Perryman Sr., to describe the secret of the company's success: "A quality job performed by quality people counts." But beyond the bricks and steel, his business achieved its status through a step-by-step process of education, perseverance and family involvement.

Perryman, 57, now is grooming his daughter, Angelina, to be his successor. The entrepreneurial firm lacks an independent board and a family council. There's also no requirement that family members work somewhere else before joining the family business. Nor was there any formal agreement stipulating that Angelo Perryman, rather than one of his brothers, would take over the business from their father, the founder.

To date, Perryman has prospered without these governance structures. A 2016 Fortune magazine of the fastest-growing "Inner City 100" companies reported that Perryman generated $21.36 million in annual revenues in 2015, with a five-year growth rate of 381%.

Angelo Perryman's grandfather, Nathan, worked as a bridge builder in Alabama. In those days, construction skills were handed down through generations of on-the-job training. Having a relative in the field was the only way you could get the job in the first place. Nathan's son, Jimmie Lee Perryman, was no exception as a young man in the 1950s; he learned construction from his father. During his Army service in the Korean conflict, Jimmie Lee added carpentry, plumbing and masonry to his bridge-building skills.

"Military construction always focuses first on things that allow soldiers to prepare for the next day's duties: a place to eat and have dry feet. Dad always used to say the biggest thing he loved was having dry feet," says Angelo Perryman.

Jimmie Perryman (right) worked in construction after the Korean Conflict.After the war, Jimmie Lee returned to Alabama and the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), which had a veterans' facility for men of color. There, Jimmie Lee used the GI bill to study business, taking classes in bookkeeping, contracts, estimating and so forth. In 1961, Jimmie Lee leveraged all his experience to establish Perryman Building in Evergreen, Ala.

Building a career

Young Angelo began working at age 8 as a mortar tender for the masons at his father's company. He quickly learned how to mix the mortar to be the right texture. Soon he began doing some brickwork, with small bricks a child could handle.

"I wanted to impress the smartest person I knew: my father," he says. "If you had the skill, you were doing the skill; otherwise, you were a feeder. You learned from watching. They teach as you go. It's a perpetual mentorship: First it's, 'Go get this material.' Then, 'Go get something this long,' so you had to learn how to read a measuring tape, and so on. You didn't know you were being trained, but you were."

Angelo's two brothers, plus multiple cousins and most of the neighborhood, also worked at Perryman after school. "Family businesses were neighborhood businesses," Angelo Perryman says. "If someone knew how to paint, that's who you'd call. I know my dad could easily say five specialty trades spun off with his firm as general contractor." His mother, Bessie, sometimes helped load materials or finish a concrete job.

"Everyone in the family was involved in the business to different degrees," Perryman says. "It is the family unit that makes the business work, not the business that makes the family."

Ultimately, however, Angelo saw bigger horizons, so he left formal employment in the family business to expand his own career direction. But at Perryman, "leave" is a relative term.

"When you're in the family business, even if you're in different places, you're still family," Perryman says. "You still talk and share about what you're learning, so it's not like I left and never looked back. We've always been a close family."

Perryman, who saw opportunity beyond building houses and other small jobs, sought out bigger opportunities at other firms. His first stint outside the family business was at the Union Camp pulp and paper mill in Prattville, Ala., where he was given a laborer's job.

It only took a week before the foreman saw he had leadership skills. In that one week, Perryman says, he was promoted from laborer to assistant superintendent. "That was my claim to fame in ascending into big job management," he says. Like his father before him, he built on each skill, rising through the ranks to managerial jobs with construction firms in six states and on a variety of building projects, including an oil quenching system in Alaska, a federal engineering project in Idaho and a prison in Detroit.

The Detroit project led him to Philadelphia as part of a national search for firms to work on the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Only three firms nationwide had workers with the necessary skills; the Detroit firm was one.

Jimmie Lee Perryman had passed away in 1976. Angelo's brothers, Nathaniel Perryman and Jimmie L. Perryman Jr., kept things running in the company for a while, but the need for construction work in Alabama had dwindled. Both brothers pursued other careers—Nathaniel as a master electrician and Jimmie Lee Jr. as a nuclear engineer—while Angelo moved around the country working in construction.

Perryman landed a high-profile job with the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia."The succession plan from Dad was not documented. I don't know that anybody documented a whole lot," says Angelo Perryman. "The company was initially considered to be Perryman and Sons, but the name ended up Perryman Building and Construction."

Angelo Perryman re-established the family construction business in Philadelphia. His brothers remained involved in a paid advisory role. "Family members are advisers, so that would be considered our board," Perryman says. "As a part of the family business, you may not have shares, so to speak, in the legal sense, but you always have the business." Nathaniel, who recently passed away, stayed in Alabama; Jimmie Lee Jr. lives in Florida.

"Family business, in our vision, is that you always had a place if you needed a place to work; you always had a job," Angelo Perryman says. "You had to do the job, but you always had a place. You'd be hired for your acumen and we'd find a place for you, even if it's as a laborer." At present, however, only Angelo's two children, Angelina and Anthony, work at the company; no extended family member does.

Planning for transition

Angelo Perryman and his daughter, Angelina, the vice president of administration, are starting to work on the transition of leadership. Angelina's younger brother, Anthony, is assistant superintendent. Angelo is divorced from their mother, who is not part of the business.

In preparing to pass on the CEO title, Angelo Perryman relies on the same consensus-building model that defines his own management style: Focus on the solution. When he asks advice of his family or his non-family management team, Perryman says, they work through the problem together; he doesn't make a unilateral decision.

"It's not a family question as much as a talent question," Perryman says. "The business is now a mid-size firm, so our role is different than when we were smaller in the food chain of building. We need the right talent that can act on my behalf to build a client base, find the right suppliers and vendors, understand client expectations, verify quality and safety and so many more pieces now. The leader is not under one hard hat but many hard hats."

Angelina, who declines to reveal her age, is the heir apparent, but both she and her brother have ownership in the business. "It is my belief that one person cannot have full brain trust of the things it takes to run an operation that is growing," Angelo Perryman says. "They will need each other, even though they have different roles."

Angelina says she's had no conflicts with her brother over who has what role. "It adds to your skill set to know what the other is experiencing. It's fun to live vicariously through him and not have to go out there—and I'm sure he's happy to not have to come in here!" she says with a laugh. Any disputes are resolved the way Angelo taught them and still insists on: together, step by step, by focusing on the issue and the solution, not on who's boss.

"We're putting our best ideas out first, and if you have something to help, offer it; otherwise, this is our best plan," Angelo Perryman says. "We're an innovative firm, we've studied and been around so many big projects, we know where the problems are, and we pride ourselves on being builders, so we get it built."

Angelina Perryman acknowledges that construction—with its emphasis on practical, rather than formal, education—is a tough business for any young executive, and especially for a female.

"I don't know if it's because I'm a woman, but I have to know more," she says. "I have to read the contracts and be on my 'A' game all the time, and at the same time be creative. If they say 'no,' I have to figure out another way to get the answer."

Angelo Perryman's plan includes daughter Angelina and son Anthony.Like many women in business, Angelina says she's learned how to negotiate, even with men who are condescending. She says the key to negotiating and resolving disagreements in a macho culture is to use reason and avoid getting emotional. Women can't simply adopt men's style, she says.

"Being strong doesn't get you the same result," she says. "They [men] yell and I yell back, and it doesn't have the same result. I want them to respond to what I'm saying first, not respond to me as a woman. I have to remember I'm not here to prove myself. My experience will speak for itself."

"I think that's one of the pluses of being in a family business," her father says. "Family members, no matter their gender, have had longer access and exposure to talent and are given a chance to execute for themselves."

Angelo has begun to scale back, letting Angelina and the management team handle issues they're capable of tackling.

"I don't know that there's a scenario where I go off into the sunset, but over time we will start reducing and reducing [my involvement]," Angelo says. His daughter either accompanies him to important meetings or is briefed on the discussions. "It should be a pretty seamless transition when the time comes for me to not be here 100%," he says.

"My kids were raised on the trust model," Angelo Perryman says. "It's crucial in the relationship. Working around me, they know we like to be as fair and correct and honest and forthright as possible. They have grown up with an understanding of expectations. My dad taught me in the step-by-step model, and I saw the results of it, so I've trained my kids in the step-by-step model. They have been incorporated to the degree they were interested in day-to-day. I don't create an environment where they're over-pressured."

Even so, Perryman says, pressure is part of the job. "You're going to have to do your homework and make sure people feel comfortable you're the right person," he says. "But the family business is big enough that if you don't want to be in one or another place, there's still room for you."

Angelina Perryman acknowledges that it's challenging to be not just a young female executive in the construction industry, but also a young black female executive. "I can't help perceptions," she says. "But once they get past that, they realize I know what I'm talking about, and it doesn't take very long once I get the chance to talk to them. My ultimate objective is that, if I'm doing my job well, I won't be looked at anything but someone who has a successful construction company. That's my end goal."

"At end of the day, it is about results," says Angelo Perryman. "Clients hire us as experts. It's legitimate for them to question our expertise, but once we get past the question of expertise, it's about delivery. As we transition to the next generation, my interest is that all those customers we work with leave with same impression: good firm, good people, good results."

Hedda T. Schupak is a a business writer based in the Philadelphia area.

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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Exposure to accounting decisions is a key part of leadership training

As a family business owner, you are pleased when you walk by a marketing team meeting and see your son suggesting ideas for the new website. You are impressed when you observe your daughter working with the operations team to reorganize warehouse layout. You have built a strong, successful business, and you are proud to be able to pass it down to your children someday. While running your company, you are also preparing your next generation to take over. Early exposure to all facets of your business, including accounting decisions, is vital for the development of strong, wise leaders.

Why is it so important to involve your next generation in accounting conversations? Typically, the financials are the most intimidating aspect of the business, as well as the most fraught with family dynamics. Here are seven ways your business will benefit from including your next generation in accounting meetings.


Clear explanations about ownership transfer plans and timing help avoid conflict between and within generations. Imagine a family business in which three daughters are involved. The oldest daughter is clearly the leader. The middle daughter works for the business, but in a specific operational role. The youngest, a schoolteacher, wants to be involved as an owner. How is ownership determined? For an S corporation, ownership distributions must be pro-rata to ownership. A plan to financially recognize the additional time and investment of the older daughters must be made clear in order to avoid conflict among the sisters.

Open conversations about how and when ownership transfer will take place, and why, puts all family members on the same page. Your children are dedicating their careers to your business and working hard, and they may wonder why you are holding off on giving them ownership of the company. Explaining certain tax benefits of delaying ownership transfer can avoid a great deal of conflict caused by unasked questions.

How: Being transparent sounds simple, but managing the emotions involved in these conversations can be stressful for a family. How best can you balance the family dynamics involved while still being direct and transparent? First, set up a special meeting to discuss just this one topic. Avoid allowing the subject to come up naturally at a family event and instead plan a time to meet in the office. Second, involve a professional like your trusted accountant, financial planner or family attorney to help keep the meeting on topic and focused on the business, not the family dynamics. And finally, remain professional at all times, continually recognizing the contributions of all of the family members involved.


Educating the next generation about accounting early on provides several benefits. Your children can ask questions in a safe environment before they assume a leadership role; as leaders, they might feel they should already know the answers.

Questions from the younger generation may help you see the accounting area of your business from a new perspective, perhaps drawing attention to changes that need to be made. They may ask why a particular bonus formula is used when a new compensation structure might make more sense, given changes in your business.

The next generation will gain exposure to areas they may not be involved with on a daily basis. For example, they will gain an understanding of the movement of accounts receivable, learning about the timing of the collection process and its impact on cash flow. They may even come up with ways to speed up cash collection.

How: Invite your children to meetings with accountants, financial planners, management and your board. Encourage future leaders to observe various departments within the organization. Help them see the interconnections of the different roles and departments, and how decisions cascade throughout the business. For instance, how does inventory represented on a balance sheet correlate to the inventory in the warehouse, and how would a change to process for either affect the other?


Accounting involves a great deal of long-term planning, and those long-term plans may very well still be in place when leadership transitions. Ensuring that your children understand and buy into these strategies early on increases the likelihood that your goals will be achieved. Consider a son who decides upon taking over that he can get a better deal with the banker down the street than he can with the banker his father built a relationship with over the last 25 years. The decision may seem sound in the short term—perhaps because it results in lower fees. However, Dad stuck with this banker because the banker knew him. When Dad had a down year, the banker knew it was just a blip and trusted that business would soon return to normal. The guy down the street may not be as understanding because the relationship is not as strong. Understanding the long-term plan helps your younger generation appreciate the nuances of the decisions you've made over the years.

How: Provide access to long-term planning documents and ask your future leaders their opinions on your long-term plans. Once again, encourage the younger generation's involvement in meetings with your accountant, attorney, financial planner and other professionals.

Relationship building

Working with advisers early on helps your younger generation build strong relationships with professionals who can help them. They will learn not only when to seek advice and what kinds of questions to ask, but also that the willingness to seek input is a hallmark of a strong leader. They will observe you and other business leaders asking your advisers how decisions will affect long-term plans, bouncing ideas off one another and tapping into the minds of objective third parties. For example, if a competitor approaches you with an offer to sell you their business, your children will observe you asking your advisers to offer perspective and conduct due diligence before simply jumping on the idea.

How: Include your next-generation team in meetings with your professionals. Also include your future leaders in networking and social events that involve these trusted professionals to build relationships outside of the conference room.


Future owners learn how to lead by observing how you and other executives act, what kinds of questions you ask, how you weigh options and what the various roles involve. A next-generation leader learns a lot by watching the mannerisms, tone and approach you use when talking to key team members about accounting data. By observing and interacting with a wide range of team members, they learn how to create and manage professional relationships.

How: Following meetings or other important interactions, debrief with your future leaders. Ask them what they learned from the meeting, how they would have responded to the situation and what additional questions might have been asked. Encourage them to ask questions and offer constructive feedback. Continually increase the next generation's leadership responsibility. Encourage leadership activities not only within the company but also in professional associations and non-profit organizations.


Accounting and tax decisions are just one piece of running a business, but they have a serious impact on every other aspect of the company. As future business owners learn about the various aspects of running a business, being a part of accounting decision making helps them recognize how these decisions affect every other part of your business, including operations, marketing and human resources. When an inventory audit is conducted, the accounting story could uncover issues in accuracy and throughput. Your next generation might observe that the warehouse is disorganized and inventory numbers are growing because inventory is not going out the door. An examination of the issue begins, and your future leader learns about assessing purchasing, warehouse operations, sales and more.

How: Encourage your next generation to spend time in all areas of the company. When reviewing financial statements or making accounting decisions, ask a future leader to do some sleuthing by visiting an affected department. If the issue at hand is depreciation of machinery, for example, consider a tour of the machines or even, if appropriate, provide training in how to use the machines. Understanding the items on the accounting reports makes them come to life.


As young leaders learn about and become a part of the company culture, understanding how accounting decisions support that culture can help guide them in the future. A future business leader will need to understand if the company belief system supports maximizing profits for the owners or if an employee profit-sharing plan is a better fit with your core values.

How: Encourage the younger generation to get to know team members in all areas of the company. Future leaders should participate in team-building activities: team lunches, summer outings, company-sponsored charitable activities, etc. They should get to know as many team members as possible and become a part of the company culture. After all, some day they will be the ones who guide the company and develop the culture

Karen Snodgrass, CPA, MBA, is a principal at Cray Kaiser, a firm that provides tax, accounting and strategic services to family businesses (

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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A slow but sure transition

Tom Flesch, CEO of Gordon Flesch Company in Madison, Wis., chuckles as he describes his ascent to the presidency of the office equipment dealer in 1986. "My dad pretty much just did it one day," Tom says. "He told my brother John and a few others in the company a week before he announced it at a board meeting. It was very old-school. Back then, you made a decision and moved forward."

Contrast that style with the first steps taken to move Tom's two sons, Patrick and Mark Flesch, onto the path to top management last year. After some ten years in the sales ranks, the two were named regional sales VPs in a restructuring that divided between them responsibility for the sales territories the company serves. There's no firm date for the next moves in the company's management transition plan.

"This was the first year for them at the vice president level," Tom explains. "They'll be there for a while, and we'll figure out the next step up the ladder. As they move up, we'll move over a little bit to let them occupy that rung. The transition will take care of itself that way."

Currently, Tom, 64, and his two brothers, John, 65, and Bill, 59, operate the company, which generates annual revenues of $150 million, with the help of a team of long-tenured senior managers. While they recognize the necessity of an orderly transition, they see no real need to rush into it. The second generation wants to give the third generation time to acquire deeper knowledge of company operations and develop a wider set of management skills, according to Tom. "We have plenty of time, and they're still young," Tom says. "It will work out."

The company was founded in 1956, after typewriter salesman Gordon Flesch saw a demonstration of 3M's new Thermofax technology. He was so impressed that he borrowed $10,000 from his father-in-law to buy a warehouse and become a 3M dealer. Today, the company that bears his name sells and services document systems that range from copiers and printers to IT management and cloud-based storage. Gordon Flesch Company is the largest Canon dealer in the United States and represents other companies like Sharp, Lexmark, IBM and Amazon as well. Its 20,000-customer base spreads across markets including schools, government, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies. About 600 employees work in 16 locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.

During the company's first 20 years, Gordon Flesch ran the business with a trusted management team. "He was a very good delegator," recalls Tom. "Very early on, he gave the sales department to one person, the parts and service to another man, administration to someone else, and dealt with the banks and leasing himself. He gave them authority to hire and fire, and I think it helped our company grow."

The second generation

The first small step in management transition to the second generation occurred in 1976, when John Flesch, Gordon's oldest son, joined the company as a salesperson. Before that, John had worked as a camp counselor and ran a program that placed emotionally disturbed kids in treatment facilities. He knew those jobs wouldn't provide the income he would need with a baby on the way. A few months later, his brother Tom came to the firm.

"My father basically took Tom and I into a conference room in the office and laid out the finances of the company," John recalls. "Tom was selling insurance at the time. He looked at us and said, 'I want you both involved in the company.' We looked at the financials and saw a great opportunity. That's how it began." The youngest brother, Bill, joined the firm in 1982. Gordon and his wife, Rozanne, had two daughters as well, but neither had any interest in working for the company.

"We were all encouraged to get experience outside the family company," Bill says. "My father was following that practice long before it became good family business practice."

As the company grew, the three brothers moved into new territories, Tom says. "The thing that made us the size we are today was our willingness to take a risk and expand and invest in other markets. First we went to Chicago, then to Columbus and finally Milwaukee. We had a great business in Madison, but the expansions all worked out and gave us financial strength."

The expansion accomplished something else as well. "Our dad was smart," Tom says. "He put us in three different states. Whether it was by plan or happenstance, that's what happened."

Tom opened the Columbus, Ohio, office the year after he joined the company. Bill was sent to the existing office in Chicago, while John stayed in Madison and gravitated to a more administrative role. "I became a full-time recruiter because our need for salespeople was so great," John says. "Dad decided I could best serve the company in the administrative, HR and service role."

The first transition

When Gordon Flesch developed some health problems in 1986, he made the decision to promote Tom to president while retaining the CEO title himself. "Maybe no one else on the board knew the appointment was coming, but I did," John says. "It all worked out."

Today, Tom serves as president and CEO, John is vice chairman of the board of directors and Bill is senior executive vice president for corporate development. The three brothers also stayed in their respective cities, although Madison remains company headquarters.

Bill believes his father's willingness to fully trust his managers was a key factor in the success of the transition. "I've never seen an entrepreneurial executive so prepared to allow other people to thrive and blossom inside his company," Bill says. "He hired well and exposed his kids to those people and taught us the value of raising great employees to be great partners in the company. He was very ahead of his time in allowing the business to run and grow without overriding and being controlling." Gordon Flesch passed away in 1995.

Tom says the family's willingness to delegate responsibility continues today. "Companies where the owner has to have his hands in every little detail have a hard time getting senior people to grow and expand in [the] company; they fear getting their hands chopped off if they make a wrong decision," Tom says. A willingness to delegate "works for us," Tom says. "Some people might think we're too loose, but it works."

Ann Kinkade, principal of Lucid Legacy, an independent family business consulting firm in Madison, and former director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Family Business Center, knows the Flesch family, who were founding members of the center (although she doesn't have a professional relationship with them now). She sees a direct correlation with their attitude toward non-family management and the company's success in retaining key non-family executives. "Strong leaders aren't going to stay with any company where they're not given autonomy and the ability to make decisions that have an impact," Kinkade says. "That's probably one reason I know several people who work for the company who have been there for 40 years."

"It's not that they're not paying attention—they know exactly what's going on. They just trust us to do the work," says Kelly Moran, senior vice president of sales and marketing, of the Flesch family leaders. The non-family executives, in turn, readily delegate authority to their direct reports, says Moran, a 32-year company veteran. "We're not micromanagers," Moran says. "We trust our people to do the work necessary, and it creates a really relaxing but accountable atmosphere." In addition to managing sales and marketing, Moran is responsible for professional services, training and some other areas.

To further align senior managers' interests with the company's interests, a small percentage of Gordon Flesch Company's stock is granted to non-family executives; like the family members who own the remainder, they receive distributions. When non-family executives leave, their stock is returned to the company and is reissued to their successors, according to John.

The family is focused on growing the company, Tom says. "You could just sit back and milk the company for a long time, like many second generations do," he says, "but that's often the beginning of the end."

The second transition

An important part of Moran's job right now is to help prepare Tom Flesch's two sons, Patrick and Mark, for larger roles in the company. The pair were promoted to regional sales VPs in 2015. Patrick, 36, oversees the company's territories in Madison and Appleton, Wis., and in Chicago. Mark, 34, is responsible for the Columbus, Milwaukee and Indianapolis territories. Patrick and Mark assumed some of Moran's duties when they were promoted.

Tom's sons are the only third-generation members currently in the business. Their older cousins (John's children) have other careers, and the younger ones (Bill's) opted for other paths as well. All are shareholders through their parents, however.

Unlike the first generational transition, this move was planned carefully and purposefully. "Tom and I talked about it for months and months in advance," Moran says. Patrick and Mark, he explains, "needed to be in positions to learn more about the operational side of the business. They were very familiar with the sales process and how to take really good care of customers, but in order for them to lead the company someday and have an appreciation of what their people have to go through, they have to go through it themselves."

"Moving Mark and I into VP positions was a big change," Patrick says. "There's not far for us to go to reach the top, but I'm not sure we're ready for that yet."

Mark adds, "The promotion was a way to get us more involved working on the business instead of just working in the trenches doing deals and training sales reps," Mark says. "That was good experience for us, but now we have more strategic conversations about the business."

The two G3s have been in their positions for more than a year, and everyone seems satisfied with the progress. "It is refreshing to see them work," Moran says. "They're further along than I expected when Tom and I first started talking about the position."

The two sons are also now company directors, joining their father, two uncles and four senior managers on the board. The group meets monthly as a management team, either in person or via video conference, and twice annually in formal board meetings. "It's not just flying family members in once a year and reviewing results," John says. "Each department presents its challenges and solutions and progress on various projects."

Bill Flesch is pleased with the way his nephews are developing as future leaders. "They're working underneath an awesome guy," Bill says. "He's really doing a nice job of mentoring them and rounding them off." Bill is not in favor of pushing the process; he recognizes that it will move along apace. "John, Tom and I are winding down over the next few years," Bill says. "The path is pretty clear, but there's nothing written down."

"It's great that they have a multi-year lens on the transition process," says Ann Kinkade. "At some point, though, there needs to be a plan. People in the next generation need to know how and when."

Given their relatively young ages and the good health of the company, the three elder Flesch brothers aren't so sure a date-specific plan is needed at this time, although the subject comes up in discussion frequently. "The most difficult part of transitions is knowing when it's time," Bill says. "It's knowing when to give other people more responsibility. You have to prepare the next generation to run the business. You have to be objective about it."

He adds, "It takes a lot of planning and careful nurturing to make them the executives they need to be."

Dave Donelson is a business writer in West Harrison, N.Y., and the author of the Dynamic Manager Guides and Handbooks.

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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July/August 2016 Openers: Research Alert

Next-generation family business members are feeling confident about their readiness to take over the business, a PwC survey of rising-generation members from around the globe has found. But the investigation also revealed that the next-generation respondents are somewhat less sanguine about their readiness to lead the family.

PwC interviewed 268 "leaders-in-waiting" from 31 countries. The companies represented reported revenues ranging from less than $10 million (21%) to more than $500 million (12%).

Nearly eight in 10 respondents (79%) said they have lots of ideas about how to take the business forward, and 88% said they want to leave their own stamp and do something special with the business. In 2014, the last time PwC surveyed next-generation members, 86% reported a desire to make a unique mark on the family firm.

"This survey saw what we really thought to be an increase in confidence," comments Jonathan Flack, U.S. Family Business Services co-leader at PwC. "And then when you get into some of the data underneath that, when you really kind of dig into what these next gens want to accomplish in the business, it's pretty dramatic."

Not surprisingly, revamping the family company's digital strategy is among many respondents' goals. Only about four in ten (41%) said they believe their company has a strategy fit for the digital world.

This finding seems to indicate "the next gens believe that digital is either currently impacting their business or is going to impact their business," Flack says. "But I think a lot of them feel as though they're struggling with the current generation in being able to implement and move their firms forward and really [address] some of those digital challenges." The 41% finding, Flack says, "shows that there's probably an expectation gap or a strategy gap between the current generation and the next generation in recognizing the impact of digital on their business."

Lauren Tracy, 35, business development manager at Dot Foods Inc., is a third-generation family member. "Depending on the generation at the helm, technology may not be an area of comfort or priority" for the current leaders, says Tracy, who was not one of the next-generation members surveyed by PwC.

"I think that typically the next gen is much more tech savvy, and so they likely see that as an area of opportunity for them to make an impact on the business," Tracy says.

The rising-generation members seem to recognize the benefits of adding outsiders to the management team. More than two-thirds (69%) said they would bring in experienced non-family managers to help modernize or professionalize the business.

"That's not a surprise to me," says Tracy. "I think this number will actually grow." Tracy says the advantages of bringing non-family members into the business in a variety of executive roles and as independent board directors is a topic that comes up often in the conversations she's had at family business conferences.

"I think as you get past the second generation, family members start recognizing that they don't have to be the CEO," Tracy says. "There are lots of roles that they can play, whether it's in the business, in the family council [or] the family foundation. So there's a lot of ways to keep family members engaged. They don't necessarily have to be the ones running the show all the time."

The 'sticky baton'

To most people, the term "next-generation members" connotes people in their 20s and 30s. The PwC study defined this population differently; those in their 40s, and even some in their 50s, were included in the survey. Flack explains that for the purposes of the study, his firm defined "next-generation members" as "individuals considered to be in the next rung of leadership." So if a senior-generation member is still holding on (consider Robert Wegman, who remained chairman of Wegmans Food Markets until he died in 2006 at age 87), the "next generation" at that leader's company will be "older and a bit more seasoned," Flack says.

Nonetheless, Flack notes, many of the survey results are consistent with characteristics attributed to "millennials" (born between 1980 and 2000). The responses indicate that most survey participants are highly confident and very ambitious, Flack says. "They're very focused on digital and transformation of the business, and they really want to leave a mark on the business," he says. "These are all common traits that you would see in millennials."

The respondents apparently perceive that what PwC refers to as "sticky baton syndrome" is present in their companies. Six in ten (61%) said they think it will be hard for the current generation to fully let go when they retire, and 80% said the current generation will want to stay involved after handing over the reins.

However, the next-generation members seem to think that continued involvement of their elders would not be a bad thing. A vast majority (91%) said they would value continued support from the current generation when their generation takes over. "I think they want them to get out of the way, but I don't think they want them to leave the room," Flack says. "They want to take a lead, but I think they still want a little bit of that support network."

Flack notes that the desire for support from the senior generation may offer evidence of another trait often attributed to millennials—that many were raised by "helicopter parents" who hovered over their kids, sometimes to the point of over-protection. The survey responses, Flack says, indicate that the next-generation members "want to be out there on their own, but they'd like the safety net of the parent there next to them."

Perhaps the rising generation wants a safety net because they feel pressure to keep the family business healthy. Most respondents (92%) said they feel a responsibility to hand over a sound business to the generation after them. In PwC's 2014 study, 90% said they felt this way.

Dot Foods' Lauren Tracy says the senior generation can help their successors smoothly guide the ship. "As family members retire, quote-unquote, they may still have an appetite to be a part of the business, but maybe not in a full-time role," Tracy says. "Are there opportunities to utilize that great intellectual capital without totally pushing them out, giving them the opportunity to stay involved with the business?"

Slightly more than half (52%) of the respondents said they will need to spend time managing family politics when they take over. "I'm surprised it's not higher than 52%," Tracy says. Based on what she's gleaned from networking at conferences, she says, "It seems typically this is the greatest concern, how to maintain family harmony, and I think managing family politics is a big part of that."

Lauren Tracy's father, Pat Tracy, who stepped down last year as Dot Foods' chairman, is one of 12 siblings. Including Lauren, there are 47 members of the family's third generation; the G3s range in age from 37 to 8.

Family councils can be an effective forum for managing family issues, Lauren Tracy says. "If the family has not gone to great lengths to create structure and policies, then I think there's a high likelihood that family politics will interfere," says Tracy, whose family has a family council.

She notes that as a family transitions from one generation to the next, not only are there more family members and family branches, but also the business likely has grown and is making more money, "so finances get typically tangled into a lot of emotional situations. So yes, I think that it is a huge topic within family business as to how to manage all these family dynamics as the business grows and changes."

Looking toward the future

One perplexing finding from the PwC study involved respondents' predictions about their companies' near future. More than two-thirds (68%) forecast that in five to 10 years, their family business would still be earning most of its revenues from the same products and services as it does now. On the other hand, 58% of the survey participants said their company will have established new entrepreneurial ventures in five to 10 years.

"What that's telling me is that there's an appetite for the next gen to really expand what the business is doing, and innovate," Tracy says. "Keep the core focus of what has been so successful for so many years, yet challenge the management team to innovate." It's likely that although the next-generation members plan to develop new ventures, she says, "they don't anticipate that they're going to provide a huge return immediately."

The data could also reflect the rising generation's realization that it might take five to 10 years for them to move into leadership and have the power to implement their innovative plans, Tracy says.

The survey respondents foresee a near-term geographic expansion of their family firms. Two-thirds (67%) predicted that their business will have entered new geographic markets in five to 10 years.

Tracy interprets that finding as an indication that the next generation sees great opportunity in geographic expansion of the core business. "Maybe the first step is to take what they're currently doing and have been successful at, and just [expand] it to a larger geography while trying to figure out what the next innovation will be," she says.

Her family's business, founded in 1960, has innovated through geographic expansion and by talking with customers about how Dot can help them tackle their challenges. "That takes us into different areas, but it's different areas that complement what we're currently doing, our core business," she says. "We think that it's innovative, and it's allowed us to grow and change over the years, but it's not something that is so entirely different that we have to learn something from scratch."

Tracy says she views the survey results as indicative of next-generation members' desire to pursue an innovative path in the context of the family firm, "because they want to put that stamp on the business." On the other hand, she says, innovation "is a little more challenging when the core business has been around for so long, and it's just a well-oiled machine. It makes more sense to figure out how you can be entrepreneurial within your current business model than to go entirely outside of it."

Advice for the elders

PwC's Jonathan Flack says the survey results reinforce two key pieces of advice he gives clients about how to prepare the next generation.

First, he notes, "The business environment is dramatically different than it was when the current generation entered the business. What was traditional training, what was the traditional path to leadership for a family member up through the ranks, likely will not prepare the next generation for leadership of the business." In today's environment, Flack says, "Businesses are far more complex, they're far more systems-oriented." In addition, Flack says, the economy is now more global, and there are many markets and competitors that were not a factor when the current generation of family business leaders was coming up.

"The second piece," Flack says, "is the dramatic difference in generational traits." Mentoring of the successor-in-waiting can be significantly hindered by an intergenerational communication gap, Flack says. "I think they have to find common ground of communication first," he says.

"You've got to think about those two things before you go and develop a plan to prepare the next generation, and you've got to constantly think about those two pieces as you continue to build out their training," Flack says. The traditional family business apprenticeship, in which a next-generation member starts out by working in the warehouse, "may not be very relevant to how they build their knowledge of the business today," he says.

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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Thinking ahead about transition

At a conference table in the sleek, contemporary headquarters of Friedman Realty Group, a real estate investment and management firm in Gibbsboro, N.J., Brian K. Friedman and his son, David, are reflecting on issues that have taken center stage for them: analyzing risk, their business future and structure, as well as continuity, succession planning and exit strategies.

With them is Nancy Drozdow, principal and founder of the Center for Applied Research (CFAR), a consulting firm that has offices in Philadelphia and Boston. Brian and David Friedman (no relation to the author of this story) have been working with Drozdow for two years. "Second-generation businesses often have a need for future planning and reorganization, and a medical event can be a strong signal for outside help," Drozdow explains.

The Friedmans know that now.

These two men had to become more deliberate about their plans for the future of their business after Brian Friedman suffered a stroke following surgery in 2004. They also have had to become more self-aware.

"Of course, I've learned a lot about life, about risk and, most of all, about my family and myself," says Brian Friedman, the president of Friedman Realty Group.

"They are both working really hard, individually and together," notes Drozdow. "Like most of us, they didn't expect that a crisis would force them to look squarely at themselves and their business."

Lightning strikes

Brian Friedman hadn't planned on undergoing major neurological surgery, the results of which could not be predicted with certainty, at age 50. Still, the surgery was not optional. Without it, a brain bleed would be fatal.

Brian awakened after the procedure to discover that a stroke, attributable to the surgery, had left him with vision and language impairment.

"It was a shock, and yes, I was frustrated," he recalls of those early weeks and months. Brian's business had been the driving force in his life. Rehabilitation took a totally different kind of energy and commitment.

"You ask yourself, 'Will I ever be able to do what I used to? Will life ever be the same? What will happen to my family?,' " Brian reflects.

A decade later, he has most of the answers. He recovered and was able to return to the office. And his son David is proving to have strong potential as a successor. In the aftermath of Brian's illness, David stepped up to the plate not solely out of a sense of duty, but because the business his father launched attracted him, and tapped into his own skills and interests.

The Friedmans are taking steps toward succession. Brian's situation forced them to begin thinking about transition sooner than they otherwise would have, and to have explicit conversations about matters they might not have discussed openly.

As David continues to learn from his father, their story remains a work in progress.

"Brian is still figuring out what he wants for himself now, and David also is aware that even though he has learned a lot already, he still has more to learn," says Drozdow.

"We're experts in real estate," Brian says, "but not in how a father and son can define their roles."

Building the business

Brian Friedman's earliest years were spent in Philadelphia and then in nearby South Jersey. His father, an accountant, began investing in distressed properties with his accounting partner in the early 1970s. Brian began working with them in May 1975, about the time of his college graduation. Property management was a good fit for him.

About three years later the company, Associated Property Management, sold all its properties. At that time Brian bought out the APM partners and changed the name of the firm to Friedman Realty Group Inc. "I loved the business, and I saw that I could expand it," Brian says.

Initially, Friedman Realty focused on apartment communities, office buildings and retail shopping centers in the Philadelphia-South Jersey region. Its more recent area of emphasis is value-added apartment ownership and management, with a specialty in improving existing properties both inside and out, and enhancing them with added amenities.

Life was full, exciting and challenging when Brian Friedman's health issues intervened. His wife, Marcy Dash Friedman, owns and operates an interior design firm. David was just about to start his freshman year at the University of Maryland. David's younger brother, Eric, was still in high school.

After a few months of rehabilitation, Brian went back to the office part-time. Yes, he needed help, and he needed to accept that fact. "It's not easy to do when you prefer doing things yourself, but I really had no choice," he recalls of those transitional times after the surgery.

David, who had had summer internship experiences in unrelated businesses, joined Friedman Realty upon his college graduation in 2008. His parents were careful to ascertain that coming aboard was truly something David wanted to do—that concern for his father's welfare was not his only motivation.

When David entered the business at age 22, Brian gave him this advice: "Watch what I do. Learn my way. Be a sponge, and ask questions in private."

A son learns the ropes

David Friedman and his father are different—in some ways, very different. Nancy Drozdow of CFAR has helped them to see and understand those traits.

David was always studious and scholarly. His parents would often say that their older son had an "old soul." Brian is more instinctive, and has strong opinions. The company he leads now includes a headquarters staff of nine and an outside regional staff of about 55.

David, now 30, remembers his early days at the firm. "I recognized from the start that I might be seen as 'the boss's son,' and I certainly didn't want that image," David says. "I wanted to be the guy who worked harder than anyone else, not the guy who got away with things because of who my father was."

David's first office in the company's former headquarters was a tiny, dark space, but he didn't mind the stark environment. "That was fine with me," he says. "My goal was to prove myself by adding value to the company."

As is true of many fathers and sons in business together, the working relationship between the two had to be defined, and there was a bit of a learning curve. "My dad had been at this many years more than I had been," David says, "but I also wanted to carve out a place for myself if this was going to work."

David's calm, quiet demeanor contrasts with his father's admittedly more impatient nature. "David can involve himself in long conversations with our property managers, while I tend to be quicker and shorter," Brian says. "But it's an example of how I can learn from him."

By the time David came into the company, his father had gone through his rehabilitation and adjustment to a somewhat altered lifestyle. The determination that has guided him to success in business and life, Brian believes, has motivated him to conquer his limitations.

While Brian has recovered much of his language acumen, he still occasionally is slow to access words. David has had to learn to recognize when his father needs help in expressing himself—and how to offer his assistance.

"Sometimes, I want and need to be an extension of my father," David says. "When he can't express what he wants to, I can do it for him—but I always wait for him to try."

Learning from each other

Brian has been capitalizing on David's technological skills. The younger Friedman recently spearheaded a redesign of the firm's website.

Brian has had to make space for David to expand his responsibilities. David, for his part, has needed to absorb and learn from his father's long experience and considerable knowhow. Both have been gaining the insight that knowledge flows both ways.

"David is absolutely prepared to do property management and does it extremely well," Brian says. "I want to be more cautious about having him do asset management too soon, and completely on his own. The buying, selling and refinancing can get very complex."

Yet Brian has discovered that good things can happen when he is open to his son's suggestions—and David has learned that having the courage to express a differing opinion can pay off. They recall a disagreement over a property in a nearby South Jersey town that David felt had enormous potential. His father was skeptical, wary of its small size. David prevailed, the company purchased the property, and it has proved to be a successful acquisition.

"This was a case of the son convincing the father," Brian says. "And I'm not easy to convince!"

"That kind of flexibility is really important for both father and son," Drozdow notes. "Even though there are skills David may need to [acquire], he has the talent and aptitude. And it's being recognized."

Brian's staff, and his son, look to him as an expert in his field. In 2004, Brian wrote a book, The Real Estate Recipe: Make Millions by Buying Small Apartment Properties in Your Spare Time. He wrote it with his then-teenage sons in mind. "I just wanted them to know that this isn't such a profound mystery," he says.

At this point, Brian is not ready to step completely away from leadership, though he and David are preparing for transition. "All of these buildings we own are my 'children,' " Brian says. "It's hard to let go."

Friedman Realty Group has weathered market fluctuations and changing trends in housing, but Brian's health crisis was by far the greatest challenge he and David have faced. They believe they passed that test.

"We're stronger as a family," Brian says, "and I've surely learned that in business and in life, it's how you handle the tough times that defines who you are." Drozdow, their adviser, says Brian and David are doing the hard work they need to do, with loyalty and love as their motivation. "Decisions have to be made," says Drozdow. "But I am awed by their progress, and they should be, too."

Sally Friedman is a writer based in the Philadelphia area.

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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From father to daughter

Some women who have taken over a business from their fathers never even expected to work in the family company, let alone become the CEO. Yet once they took the helm, those daughters discovered that they have the right skills, experience and values to guide their companies through the transition to the next generation and beyond.

Karen Buchwald Wright is chairman, CEO and president of Ariel Corporation, a highly successful business that manufactures reciprocating natural gas compressors in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She became the CEO somewhat by default when she and her husband (who had been president) divorced and her younger brother, who decided to pursue a different career, sold her his half of the company.

Karen's dad, Jim Buchwald, an engineer and entrepreneur, started the business in the basement of the family home in 1966. He expected that eventually his son would take over running the business after his daughter and son-in-law divorced.

Karen's mother, Maureen Buchwald, also worked in the business, as vice president of administration, and made a major contribution to Ariel's success. Karen began working there in 1980 and for three years was in an "impromptu management-training program." She decided to work part-time when she had her first son in 1983, and continued while raising four sons. When her mother retired, Karen took over her mother's role, working full-time at Ariel.

No one, including Karen, thought she would take over the company until 2001. Her marriage had ended and her brother had left, and she was, as she puts it, "the last man standing." Her family, who doubted she would be able to run the business herself, suggested she hire a non-family executive. Karen did hire someone, but within a couple of weeks it was evident that the new hire was not qualified.

At the same time, Karen was in the process of rehiring a former employee to replace her brother as chief engineer. He suggested that she was perfectly capable of running the company and didn't need to hire someone else. Karen took his advice. "All I needed was for one person to say I could do it . . . that one vote of confidence," she says. "That's all it took for me to stop and say, 'You know, that's right! I can do this.' Men often have less trouble with personal validation, but women tend to look for external validation. It was an 'Aha' moment for me."

Of course, it took more than encouragement to prepare Karen for the role of CEO. Karen considers raising four boys while working part-time to be a significant component of her preparation for leadership. "As a mother, you're a manager, a psychologist, a disciplinarian, a motivator, a time manager and a leader," she says. "It's a real job that requires you to learn on the job, and learn it fast. As it turns out, that's very much like being the CEO." Her advice to hiring managers: "If you know a woman who has raised several children and is looking to get back into the workforce, hire her right now, because she can do anything you throw at her."

Soon after taking over, Karen realized the most important task she faced was taking the business to the next level of development, from an entrepreneurial start-up model to a broader-based, multilevel management structure that would be important for the next phase of growth. "There was a lot of turf-guarding, and people were sensitive about their roles," she says, "but the task of the second generation is to create that structure for growth. It's important to understand that one person cannot know and do everything and that the leader is only as strong as the team she leads."

The man who encouraged Karen to take the lead is now her second husband and one of her closest team members. Her older two sons have joined the company and are working toward significant leadership roles. Her dad, now 88, still likes to come into the office and is writing a book on the early days of founding and establishing the company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He has told her, "I am so impressed. I could have not possibly done what you've done." It is clear that Karen has successfully transitioned Ariel from a small company to a large, complex and successful enterprise.

Earning support

When Kristy Knichel took over her dad's company, Knichel Logistics, based in Gibsonia, Pa., she had the full support of her family and her employees, but she definitely had worked hard to earn it. Her father, William Knichel, founded the company, which is now an international freight and shipping business. Kristy began working there at age 19. Her dad was a very tough and stubborn boss, yet she ultimately proved to him that she could succeed in a male-dominated industry. Neither Kristy nor her dad expected her to take over the company, but it was definitely a good move. Under Kristy's leadership, Knichel's annual revenues have grown from $2 million to $50 million. "My relationship with my dad fueled my determination, and it still does," says Kristy, Knichel Logistics' president and CEO. "He instilled a strong work ethic in me from an early age and pushed me to constantly strive for success. I didn't like his management style and we would often disagree on business decisions, but I believe his guidance helped make me the leader that I am today, and for that I am grateful."

Working "in the trenches" and taking on every job in the company, Kristy developed strong relationships with employees, vendors and customers. As her confidence grew, Kristy realized she could lead the company. While she had great respect for her father and what he built, she also knew that she wanted to be a different kind of leader and to create a different culture, one in which employees were encouraged to speak freely about their ideas and concerns. She has made it clear to her employees that they should feel comfortable speaking up to her and to her siblings, who also work at Knichel. "It doesn't matter whether someone is a friend of mine or a family member," she says firmly. "I'm running a business, and everyone here needs to work as a team. I do not play favorites—value is proven through one's work ethic, not personal ties."

Of course, running any business has its challenges. Kristy is navigating Knichel Logistics through the mergers and acquisitions that are occurring within the freight industry. While the competition is real, Kristy believes that relationships are the key to business success. "I still say that there's a niche market for a company where you can still get someone on the phone," she says. "With all the changes, there's a lot of chaos in our industry behind the scenes, but we're trying to streamline our systems and quickly get customers through the door."

Thorough preparation

Tacy Byham recently became CEO of DDI, a global leadership development consultancy based in Pittsburgh, and is following in her father's footsteps on a very well-laid path. Like her dad, William Byham, who co-founded DDI in 1970, Tacy is an industrial/organizational psychologist. The fact that her father was in the business of assessing and developing high-potential employees and preparing them for significant leadership roles worked to her advantage as she learned the ropes.

Tacy did not immediately join DDI, though her father recognized her leadership aptitude when she was a teenager. Tacy, who was talented in math and computer science, started out at a computer company in New York. That experience helped her decide to enter her father's firm. In her previous job, she had a difficult manager who neglected her and members of her team; as a result, Tacy says, she learned "what kind of a boss I never, ever wanted to be." She decided to pursue a Ph.D. in industrial/organization psychology, and then went to work at DDI. She began as a master trainer for the company's leadership training services, and later took on roles of increasing responsibility and leadership.

"I continued to move purposely through the organization, and learned to not only stand up for myself, but to also step up and ask for what I wanted and deserved," says Tacy. "Each position involved building trust, pulling the group together as a team, breaking existing paradigms and communicating effectively with various groups. These experiences were invaluable."

As Tacy tells it, she "drank the Kool-Aid" that DDI offered, and it has served her well. DDI is known for its rigorous and thorough leadership assessment and development process, one used to develop DDI's staff as well. Like other high-potential employees, Tacy participated in DDI's assessment center, which focused on her behavior in a variety of challenging situations. The experience tested her ability to make large and small decisions, to negotiate, to coach others and to give the kind of presentations likely to be required of a future executive. The process was not easy, but Tacy valued the feedback, learned from her mistakes and considers the experience an important part of her preparation for the role of CEO.

The company also needed to prepare for her leadership. A full two years before she became CEO, Tacy's dad and his business partner announced that Tacy and other new senior leaders would be taking over the firm. For the most part, the transition has been smooth, though Tacy remains surprised when employees she has known for years claim that they "don't really know" her. Tacy knows she has not changed, but she realizes that her transition to CEO will require some readjustment in her relationships with her employees.

Providing training and encouragement

Karen, Kristy and Tacy are successful executives, leading enterprises that evolved from the creative ideas of their entrepreneurial fathers. They are smart, determined and capable women, committed to their businesses and to their communities, but neither they nor their fathers expected them to take over their businesses. Families who want to set the stage for their next-generation women to become leaders can learn a lot from these CEOs' stories.

First, daughters may need to be encouraged to lead, perhaps more than sons; giving them opportunities to work in the business and offering both critical feedback and praise can boost their confidence. Second, a daughter can take over a business while raising her children—an idea that still meets resistance in many settings. As Karen's experience shows, parenting skills can transfer to the workplace quite well. Third, intensive preparation is vital. Not every daughter has the opportunity for development that Tacy had, but fathers can provide assignments that challenge their daughters. Formal assessment of young women's skills and leadership styles can also be helpful.

It is an exciting time for women in family businesses. As they sustain and develop their family's legacy, assuming significant leadership roles, they have the potential to transform their businesses, their communities and the role of women as an economic force in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Amy J. Katz, Ph.D. is president of Daughters in Charge, a consulting firm that helps women find personal and professional fulfillment and financial success as leaders in their family businesses (

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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January/February 2016 Openers

The Bentley Company, founded in Milwaukee in 1848, built churches, schools, municipal structures and commercial buildings, including historic landmarks like the Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, the Villa Louis Mansion in Prairie du Chien, the Cincinnati Water Works and the San Francisco Post Office, which survived the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989. But the recession of 2008 hit the industry hard, and fifth-generation leader Thomas H. Bentley III decided to phase out of the construction business.

That decision did not bring the longstanding family enterprise to an end, however. Bentley and his son, Todd, have continued to operate Bentley World-Packaging Ltd., an export packaging company, in addition to a real estate business, Bentley Management Group.

Bentley World-Packaging focuses on industrial crating for shipping machinery overseas. The company was founded to sustain the family through the dearth of construction jobs during World War II; it was suspended in 1946 until Tom Bentley revived it in 1973. In 2008, when things looked grim in the construction industry, "Unlike other contractors, who knew little else except contracting, I had a choice," says Tom, 69. "Not having a choice kept some contractors hanging on too long, and they lost money and got aggravated, and it didn't work out very well for them. But I had a choice. It was fortunate."

When Family Business Magazine profiled the Bentleys in 2012, Todd had recently been promoted from CFO to executive vice president. Tom said he planned to elevate his son to CEO within two years.

Those plans changed. In January 2014, Jeff Van Straten became Bentley World-Packaging's CEO. Van Straten had been president and CEO at Dutchland Plastics Corp. in Oostburg, Wis., whose family owners sold a majority interest to three investment firms at the end of 2013. "He's very savvy," says Tom, the company chairman. "Age-wise, he's between Todd and I, so between the three of us now, it's a real good triumvirate." Todd, 37, became vice president of corporate strategy at the packaging company in 2014.

Since 2012, the company has also transformed its advisory council into a fiduciary board with six members. Tom, Todd and Sally Bentley—Tom's wife and Todd's mother—serve on the board along with Van Straten and two independent directors. "We debated having a seventh board member, but only if they're really valuable, with insights into logistics and the industry," Todd says. "We'd want someone who's really connected to our industry. I would say there's about a 50:50 chance that if we found the right person, we would add a seventh."

Bentley World-Packaging is seeking to grow by acquisition and through partnering with other companies, Tom and Todd say. "To really be responsive to the needs of the market, especially when the needs of the marketplace are changing so fast, you have to have an entrepreneurial outlook," Todd comments.

Bentley Management Group owns real estate in seven states. It invests in three categories: farmland, recreational properties and industrial facilities, some of which serve the family's packaging business. "For various reasons, all of the segments we're in are really strong," Tom says. Todd primarily manages the industrial properties, and Tom manages the rest. On the packaging side, Todd's strength is in accounting and finance, while Tom focuses on sales and marketing.

No regrets

Tom says he doesn't regret closing the construction business. Even though the economy has improved since the recession, he says, "It's still difficult, particularly on the construction side, mostly because so many companies disappeared, and so many tradesmen retired." Project managers who worked with Bentley in the past, Tom says, are complaining that while they now can get work, they are struggling to cope with a shortage of skilled carpenters, electricians and plumbers. "They're all struggling now with capacity constraints with the work they've got."

Todd's three children, ages 10, 8 and 5, accompany him to the office on weekends, although "they don't drive forklift trucks yet," their grandfather says with a laugh. They are likely to follow in the footsteps of their father, who in high school spent weekends and summer vacations in the office or the shop.

"We have every prospect of having a seventh generation, which is kind of cool, for sure," Tom says.

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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Simply sustainable

When the owners of Hill & Markes Inc. talk about sustainability, they are referring to their company's longevity as well as their environmental responsibility. The wholesale distribution company has survived recessions and other challenges over the course of 108 years—67 of them under the current family ownership. CEO Neal Packer, 65, says the company's success stems from the family's ability to stay focused, capitalize on their talent and run the business with high morale and integrity.

Amos Hill and Charlie Markes founded Hill & Markes in Amsterdam, N.Y. (about 35 minutes from Albany) in 1906 as a candy, ice cream and ice cream cone distributor, making deliveries by horse-drawn buggies and sleighs. In 1947, Harry and Harriet Finkle purchased the company and expanded the product line to include school supplies, paper products, rental dishes and cutlery. A second-generation trio joined the company in the 1970s: Harry and Harriet's son, Jeffrey Finkle; their daughter, Andrea Finkle Packer; and Andrea's husband, Neal Packer. Jeffrey Finkle, 61, is the president, and Andrea Packer, 66, is vice president of marketing.

The company has evolved since Harry and Harriet's day, according to Neal. "It was a small, mom-and-pop operation that sold candy, sundries, toys and holiday decorations to convenience stores," he explains. "These places were going out of business as 'big-box' stores were growing in popularity. We diversified into our current product lines."

Today the company distributes janitorial supplies; foodservice disposables; industrial packaging; office supplies; ice cream toppings and supplies; and organic, gluten-free and vegan snacks and products. It serves a range of customers throughout New York state (with the exception of Long Island and New York City), including hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, schools and universities, government agencies, vending companies, building service contractors, manufacturers, food processors, hotels, corporations and grocery stores.

Hill & Markes employs up to 190 people, depending on the season. "Most of our employees have been here for ten or 20 years or more," Neal says. "While lots of distributors have gone out of business in the recessionary economy of a few years ago, we have added employees and kept growing."

Andrea adds that Hill & Markes "aggressively went out looking for businesses to acquire." She says, "We acquired 12 companies in the past two decades, and we expanded our breadth of line and geography through the acquisitions. Many of the acquisitions were distressed companies whose owners wanted to get out or cut back on running their companies." After acquisition, Andrea says, Hill & Markes tries to retain as many employees as possible from the acquired company.

A 'green' building

Hill & Markes has received numerous awards and honors from its industry and its major customers, as well as from business publications and agencies in its region.

In addition to offering a number of environmentally friendly products, the company operates in a "green" building that has earned LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The 130,000-square-foot building was completed in July 2011 at a cost of $12 million. "Our building is much larger than the building we left, and the energy costs are 20% less," Neal says.

"To meet the certification standards, water comes off the roof of the building in a special way for recycling, the recycled carpeting is made out of soda bottles and there are high-efficiency heating and lighting systems, with outside lighting used when possible," Neal says.

Operations began at the new warehouse in March 2011, months before the rest of the building was completed, in order to serve customers' needs. "It was really, really important to get the warehouse portion done before the summer season, because many of our customers need napkins, cleaning supplies and other products at that time," Andrea says.

A training facility, which holds up to 90 people and has special sections for product demonstrations, is named after Harry and Harriet Finkle. Family members recall Harry and Harriet fondly. "My father always said that we should treat everybody well and be honest with employees, customers and vendors," Andrea says. "He was focused on taking care of the customers and employees. He worked hard and spent many hours on the road taking care of customers and growing the customer base. He passed on that work ethic and that focus on the customer. As we grow, we have had to learn to scale that focus on the customer and impart that work ethic onto our employees."

When Hill & Markes moved into the new facility, employees continued working in shifts to prevent backlogs and ensure continuous customer service with no disruptions. "It was a seamless transition, with business going on as usual," Jeffrey says.

Working as a family team

The three principals try to keep the family relationship seamless as well. The company is half owned by the Packers and half owned by the Finkles. Neal Packer, who previously was chief operating officer, was elected CEO by the family. "This CEO designation was a long-overdue process," Andrea says. "When my father passed away, we never filled that title until almost a decade later."

The family takes an informal approach to governance. Jeffrey, Andrea and Neal serve on the board. There is also a family council, which consists of the three second-generation principals plus Jeffrey's wife, Melanie; Andrea and Neal's son Jason; and Jason's wife, Lisa. The family council meets twice a year. The objective, according to Andrea, is "checking the compass." They develop a strategic plan for the year, review succession planning, ensure everyone understands the goals and discuss personal matters. Neal says these meetings give family members a chance to learn how the company is doing and what is planned for the following year, as well as to interact with each other.

"We use conversation and a third-party family business consultant to help with disagreements," Andrea says. "He goes through our agenda, helps us to develop it and asks questions until we come up with answers we can all agree upon. Everyone sits down together and tries to come to agreement."

"When decisions need to be made about acquiring other companies and expanding into new markets, we get together with the management team and see what the payback will be," Neal says. "If it's a new territory, we see what the market looks like and what it will cost in terms of whether we have to buy new equipment and how much training will be needed."

Jason Packer, 36, is the only one of the five third-generation members currently involved in the business. Jason, who now serves as both the sales manager and business development specialist, is in the process of making the transition to vice president of operations. He worked in a variety of part-time roles with Hill & Markes during high school and college. "I cleaned trucks, filed papers, opened mail, received product and stocked shelves, delivered orders and made sales calls with my grandfather," he recalls.

Jason manages eight sales professionals, develops corporate accounts, generates ideas for new product lines and plays an active role in new technology implementation. "Ultimately, my job is to learn the business and be the successor to my dad," he says. He has trained for that role by covering his own territory as a sales representative, working closely with his mentor (the company's executive vice president of sales), meeting with other distributors across the country to learn best practices and studying his parents' and uncle's business philosophies. "Most importantly, I listened and learned from our other salespeople, our internal staff and our customers," he says.

Jason earned his bachelor's degree in policy studies from Syracuse University in 2000 and his MBA in entrepreneurship from American University in 2008. His impressive résumé includes a semester abroad at the City University of Hong Kong. He has worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and managed the fund-raising operation of the American Constitution Society, a legal think tank. He was also a sales consultant at the Corporate Executive Board in Arlington, Va. He joined Hill & Markes in September 2009.

While Jason enjoyed the earlier part of his career, he knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and either start his own business or work in his family's company. "I tested family business for a few years and found it enjoyable, so I have stayed," he explains.

"Jason came here with a huge background in business and politics, an MBA and tremendous business acumen," his father says. "He questions why we do things the way we do them and comes up with new and better ideas. He has brought fresh air, new looks and astute problem-solving capability to the business."

Neal says he plans to promote his son to vice president of operations in early 2015, when the company expects to hire a regional manager. "He has moved from business development to sales management and takes on new things all the time," Neal says of Jason.

Andrea describes Jason's training as a "slow but planned transition." Because he has taken on more and more responsibility over time, he will be ready to assume a major leadership role when the time comes, she says.

Currently, Jason is working on implementing a new line of food products that complements the company's food-service business. He is also working on strengthening ties in the community by becoming more involved in non-profits.

"What brings me the most satisfaction about being part of my family business is having the opportunity to be entrepreneurial and contribute to the welfare of the community," Jason says. "What I've learned is to have a mentor, listen, learn and be humble." 

Ilene Schneider is a freelance writer based in Irvine, Calif. 


Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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