Dueling Perspectives: Kathy Munson and Jill Jensen

By Barbara Spector

Addressing family council challenges

Crescent Electric Supply of East Dubuque, Ill., was founded in 1919 by Titus B. Schmid. The Schmid family is now in its fifth generation. At the time of the company’s centennial celebration last year, there were 128 family members in seven branches. The Schmid Family Council was established in 2005.

Jensen Precast, based in Sparks, Nev., manufactures precast concrete products. Don Jensen founded the business in 1968. The 14-member Jensen family, now in its third generation, established a family council in November 2014.

Kathy Munson, a third-generation member of the Schmid family, and Jill Jensen, a second-generation member of the Jensen family, chair their respective family councils. Though their roles are similar, their tasks differ. Munson is working to sustain the momentum of her family’s well-established council, while Jensen is focusing on family communication now that key family documents have been created.

We asked Munson and Jensen: What are your family council’s current challenges?

Kathy Munson, Crescent Electric Supply:

“One of [the challenges] is getting the next generation involved. There is a lot of interest, but for young people to find the time to participate in meetings or lead certain initiatives is a bit of a challenge. We’re trying to find ways to engage them in the time that they have to offer.

“The other one is [identifying successors for] family members on the business board — finding the people who have the desire and the capabilities. You need a good business background. We have several that are [qualified], but they have kids now. There’s a lot of attention that they need to give to other things in their lives.

“Those are two challenges we can meet — they’re not insurmountable at all — but they’re right in front of us at the moment.

“We’re moving into a new era for philanthropic activities, and I’m not sure where it’s going to go. We have a new chairman of the philanthropy committee within the family council, and she’s just starting to gather information. What have we all been doing [individually]? We already do some things together, but do we want to do more?”

Jill Jensen, Jensen Precast:

“We thought at the beginning it would be a lot of work, and it was. But there’s also a fair amount of ongoing work. The documents themselves are sort of living and breathing, so we always have to be looking at them and redefining them and talking about whether something has changed or not.

“Where we needed help was clarifying our roles and responsibilities. We did some exercises early on, and our consultant would ask, ‘What hat are you wearing right now?’ Depending on the decision that was made, we had to [consider], are we wearing our family council hat, are we wearing our shareholder’s hat, are we wearing our board hat? And because all five of us [family council members] are still working in the business, are we wearing our management hat, our employee hat? That still is something that we have to pay attention do with every decision made.

“I think our biggest success has been responding with one voice to the needs of the business. And even though we may not agree on everything, we do respect the decisions that are made. It’s OK to disagree in a family meeting with each other, but it’s not OK to go out into the business and disagree outside of the family council.”

Copyright 2020 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 bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.    

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March/April 2020

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