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?
“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.”
“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.”
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