Pittsburgh business welcomes Gen 3

By April Hall

With jobs at Kraft Heinz Co. and Keurig Green Mountain, Chris Droney was carving out a corporate career in supply-chain operations. He hadn't thought about joining his parents at Mt. Lebanon Office Furniture and Interiors in Pittsburgh.

But then he and his wife, Karla, wanted to start a family.

"My work was fulfilling and challenging, but not hitting a chord with balance," says Chris, now 31.

So he and Karla moved from Vermont to be closer to their families. While working remotely for Keurig for six months or so, he spent more and more time with his parents, the second-generation owner-operators of the family business.

"I had worked in the warehouse when I was in school and grew up around the family business," Chris says. "There was a level of familiarity and I thought, 'If I don't give it a shot now, I may never have the opportunity.' "

His parents, Jim and Rosemary Droney, who have worked in the business for more than 40 years, weren't as deliberate in their decision to join.

After the couple graduated from Boston College with English majors, they assumed they would stay in the city and pursue corporate or academic careers. Instead, they got a call from Jim's father, James Sr. He needed help with the family business, then known as Mt. Lebanon Office Equipment because it sold and repaired typewriters and other office machines. That was in 1976.

"We continually postponed the transition back to Massachusetts by one more year, one more year," says Rosemary Droney, 61. "Then my husband realized he truly enjoyed what he was doing. Working here requires that you utilize very diverse capabilities. It's interesting and it's entrepreneurial."

Rosemary, who doesn't have a job title, works mainly in account management. Jim is president and Chris is vice president and general manager. Chris says he concentrates on strategy. "I want to look at where are we today, how to improve on our gaps," he says. "I'm setting a strategic vision for where we'll be two, three, five years from now."

His parents, on the other hand, are focused on the present. "They work on the business and in the business," says Chris, who will celebrate his first anniversary with the company this summer. "They're in the day-to-day—keeping key accounts going, giving support to the team. They're coming from the people perspective."

Jim and Rosemary have already left their marks on the business. During their tenure, the company expanded from office equipment to complete office design and installation.

Rosemary says she and her husband have no plans to retire in the near future, and they have a lot to learn from their son. "He is very, very experienced," she says. "And it's very different than we came into the business, because Christopher's experience and background are very different. In many ways, he mentors us."

"That's Mom talking, not Rosemary," Chris says. He calls his parents "Jim" and "Rosemary" in the office.

When Chris joined the business, one of the first things he addressed was how to separate the professional from the personal. This was a topic that didn't come up during his corporate career, he says.

"I read a few books, and I Googled 'transitions and family businesses.' This is an environment where it's much smaller, and you know people's spouses and kids. It's a whole different level of awareness [of] how you handle things, where, in the corporate world, we think it's just business and business decisions."

Although Jim and Rosemary are still a big part of the business, Chris says they are in the early stages of talking about succession.

"Any good business plan has a succession plan tied to it," he says. "I didn't join without the intention to be involved in the longer term. It's hitting all the challenge and fulfillment marks for me, and I hope it does for many years to come. If that's the case I'd like to be the one running it."

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 bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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May/June 2017

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