The Secret to NextGen Success

By Charlie Rhomberg

As generations get further removed from the founding of the company, their relationship with it changes

I've been playing with ChatGPT a lot in the last few weeks, both for fun and work. The program is incredible—it can write working code, college-level essays, and explain Aristotle in the voice of a pirate.

It boggles my mind that, at my age, my dad had to bike to the library for a tiny fraction of the information I have at my fingertips.

Three generations before him, my great-grandpa Titus Schmid founded Crescent Electric Supply Company. It’s been more than a century since then, and the pace of change seems to quicken with each passing year.

Dealing with these vast generational differences creates a number of challenges for me and others in the 4th gen.

Communication styles vary

We on the Schmid Family Council recently introduced a new website that’s a one-stop shop for the family. Company documents are housed there, along with photos, addresses, and other relevant info.

By and large, the 4Gs have picked it up quickly. They’ve been using social media since middle school, and intuitively understand how to navigate the site.

As for the 3Gs…let’s just say there’s been a lot of hand holding.

They’ve primarily communicated via email and phone calls their whole lives, and the new site is a big change. It’s required extra time and patience from us 4Gs to get everyone up to speed, but will be well worth it in the long run.

Differing relationships with the business and its legacy

Crescent Electric was founded in East Dubuque, Illinois, and many 3rd generation Schmids grew up around that area. They had parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who worked at the company, and an intimate relationship with the surrounding community.

That’s not the case for almost all the 4Gs. We’re spread around the country, and our busy schedules prevent us from visiting Dubuque more than once a year or so.

It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge, but as generations get further removed from the founding of the company, their relationship with it changes. That’s not to say we don’t care—I and other 4Gs volunteer for things like the Family Council because we have a deep appreciation for what prior generations built, and a desire to keep the good thing going.

Yet, I never met Titus. Everything I know about him comes from his writings and stories from family.

The trick is maintaining the bedrock values that the Schmids have held for 100 years, while adapting them to meet the needs of the current day and age.

Blending the old with the new

Older generations tend to hold onto what’s worked in the past, while younger ones want to toss it out the window and start from scratch.

There can be friction between the two, but that’s ultimately healthy. As Einstein said, “life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Charlie Rhomberg is a freelance writer and a fourth-generation member of Crescent Electric Supply.

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