Family Business Q&A: Joshua Nacht

A brief chat with a family business stakeholder.

Joshua Nacht
Board member, Bird Technologies

Please provide some background information about Bird Technologies.

JN: Bird Technologies was founded in 1942 outside of Cleveland, Ohio. We make radio frequency power measurement devices. These are components that go in systems that involve radio frequency, and increasingly, instead of just making parts, we’re making the entire system. Traditionally this was for TV and radio. We make a lot of radio frequency systems and components for police and fire radio systems. Radio systems, like in subways or tunnels or bridges. And then we’re increasingly in the cellular wireless space. We make a lot of components to make a lot of these systems work.

Did you have any knowledge of the family business when you first started?

JN: No, nothing. If you had asked me what a family-owned business was, I probably would have been able to come up with something. But since I married in, in 2004, I have learned a tremendous amount about what it means to own a family enterprise. I knew nothing about radio frequency, that’s for sure.

Describe your role in the family business enterprise.

JN: We are in the situation where, by the third generation, we have no family members working in the business. We are 100% family owned. And we are very committed as a family ownership group to owning this long-term. So our role is as stewards, and protecting an asset for all of the stakeholders. The family operates in a governance role. We have a family leadership council that governs a family group of shareholders. And we do have a formal board of directors to govern the business. We have three family members on that board -– one of whom is the chairman of the board –- and then we have six independents who serve on the board. We have a non-family CEO and non-family managers.

The key points [involve] the interaction between the family and the board, and that’s where our mission and values became aligned. When we talked to our CEO -– he’s been here since 2000 -– he knew he was getting involved in a family-owned enterprise. Since that time he’s increasingly asked, "Is this aligned with what the family wants?" And over time that’s gotten smoother through good communication. We have a very aligned system. The board is always appreciating the business aspects.

How many family shareholders are there?

JN: Right now we have nine primary shareholders. One is in G2 and eight are in G3. G2 is transitioning their ownership to G3 every year.

What has been the most rewarding part of being in a family business?

JN: As a family, we are not involved in the day-to-day business operations. What we are involved in is this incredible responsibility and opportunity of owning something that was started 73 years ago by a grandfather. And now we have the opportunity to steward this legacy and make a real impact in the world. This business is in our hands. We can do a number of things with it. We’ve decided to own it long-term as a family because we feel like we can bring something to the business that will support it long-term. It’s not just about profit, but it’s about making an impact on the world, and really serving all of our stakeholders.

What are some of the challenges of being a director?

JN: Some of the most challenging aspects have been dealing with the family because of the family dynamics. When I married in, I had a very new and fresh perspective. As I’ve been there longer and longer -- about 11 years -- I’ve developed my own relationships. People I resonate with, and people I have more trouble with. No matter what, the family dynamics always present a challenge because you are trying to reconcile a lot of different perspectives. Even though we’ve had alignment –- and we’ve done a good job aligning together -- we still have a pretty big range of perspectives, and it’s always about trying to bring those together.

What is the best piece of family business advice you have received?

JN: There’s an essential element of trust involved. Family members have to trust one another. The business has to trust us as a family that we’re not going to do anything to harm the business. The family has to trust the board because the board hires the CEO and oversees the business. In turn, we have to trust the CEO in hiring good people and making good decisions. Trust is this glue. The more we work on trust and communication, the more we make sure we’re really interacting well together. Really focus on trust as this central element and come to that as a touchstone.

— Rob Chakler 

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