Uniting the family in a diversified business
The sustainability of a family business often depends on diversification. Times change, markets change, technology changes — sometimes it feels as though everything changes regularly.
William F. Peel and Barbara K. Peel founded Red Coats Inc., a janitorial services firm, in the 1960s. Today, the diversified family enterprise is known as the Red Coats Family of Companies.
The company now provides building security through Admiral Security Services; secure entry technology, monitoring 100,000 doors each day, via Datawatch Systems; and general property management. This is in addition to Red Coats,
whose custodial teams service 130 million square feet of property.
Property owned by the enterprise includes its corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md.; all Red Coats businesses are in the process of moving their headquarters operations there. Branch offices are located in Baltimore; Richmond, Va.; Wilmington and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; and Tampa, Orlando and Miami, Fla.
With a handful of different businesses and three regional divisions (Virginia, North Carolina and Florida), it can be a challenge to stay on the same page, especially when about a dozen family members, now stretching into the fourth generation, work in the company. What can be done to unify family members who work in the various components of the enterprise?
We posed this question to two members of the Red Coats family, who represent two different generations and work in different divisions of the business. William “Billy” Peel III, 65, who joined the business in the 1980s, is president of Datawatch Systems. Mack Wells III, 40, started with the company in 1999 and is assistant vice president of Red Coats Inc., the legacy company that provides janitorial services for office buildings. Billy is Mack’s uncle.
Billy Peel III:
“I think that what my parents [said] in the beginning was, ‘You have this business, you run this one, you run this one, and so on.’ From there we would hire people in the janitorial company that were very good at their craft. Then, as the family grew, we had to read the tealeaves as to who would or wouldn’t be running the company as we brought in more family members. We started acquiring all these companies, and everyone took their role.
“We talk a lot at our board meetings. We’ve used a consultant [to bridge communication gaps], and our CPA sits in. We also meet once a month for a ‘How ya doing?’ Every quarter there’s a management meeting. And we are pretty close. In general, there’s not a lot [of information] we miss.
“And there is no real ‘boss boss.’ For us, it’s been fine, and it’s working the way we’re doing it. We kind of are all co-CEOs of our companies. If our team has a meeting, we pass along the information from group to group.
“But as we get bigger and are growing in different states, it will be more of a challenge.”
Mack Wells III:
“At headquarters, we’re all housed in the same office building, or we will be soon. Really, we’re used to being together.
“Even though the companies run independently, we have a lot of the same customers. We know the customers,
and they know us from one business to another.
“On more of a family level, we live about 15 miles from each other, so we’re really living together and getting together for holidays. We talk over dinners and don’t miss much in each other’s lives, including business.
“We talk about business, and I can’t say there aren’t disagreements in the business, but we have a good time
at work and outside of it.”