For many professionals the line between family and work is clear: They do not mix. But for family-owned firms, there is no such line.
Multiple leaders on this year’s Top 100 list have elected to work alongside their kin. That decision has helped spur growth, they say.
For Steel Tech Fabricators Inc., a father-and-son duo has helped the company adapt.
“You can always rely on someone when stuff gets real rough,” said CEO Terence Brown Sr., who is majority owner. “We felt if we kept it that way it would be a stronger built company.”
His son, T.J. Brown, serves as a project manager for the company and owns 5 percent of the construction firm that manufactures metal fabricators and erectors.
T.J. Brown began working in the company during high school and proved he was dedicated to the business, his father said.
“You have to ultimately trust the person who you are bringing in. If that’s an issue, then you will have problems,” the elder Brown said. “I can trust my son 100 percent and I think that’s the key.”
ID Signsystems Inc. is run by spouses Paul Dudley and Katrina Beatty. Dudley serves as the president and Beatty is CEO. The company designs, manufactures and installs interior and exterior architectural signage.
Trust is also a major draw for the top executives.
“There are some tax advantages, and the ability to have complete trust in one another is a great benefit,” Dudley said. “The disadvantages are that sometimes we find we live the business 24/7. Fortunately, we work hard to give each other personal and professional space, while both investing our joint passion in the success of our jointly owned business.”
For those aspirating to run a business with a spouse, the key is to not let the business take over every moment together.
“It is hard, but when you both return home, try and check the business at the door,” Dudley said. “It is important that you share valuable family time together without the stresses of the business intruding.”
Home Leasing Corp. was founded in 1967 by brothers Norman and Nelson Leenhouts. Norman Leenhouts’ daughter, Amy Tait, joined the firm in 1983. The company transitioned from a family business to a public company over a decade later when it became Home Properties Inc.
Tait, her husband, Bob, and her father started Broadstone Real Estate LLC in 2006. Tait serves as chairman and CEO.
Tait’s consistent family environment has created an unstoppable team for her firm.
“A clear benefit of being family owned is that we are all motivated to preserve and enhance the reputation that we have earned over many decades,” she said. “Family employees have an alignment of interests, so they can be immediately trusted.”
This year, Stone Point Capital’s Trident VI fund made an investment in the firm in exchange for a 45.6 percent interest in its management company, officials said.
“Since our recent transaction with Stone Point Capital, I believe that Broadstone now has the best of all worlds—the ethics and values of a family-owned business, the sophistication and resources of a great private-equity partner, and the entrepreneurial spirit and culture of an employee-owned company,” Tait said.
Today, the family retains an equal 45.6 percent, with nearly 9 percent of interests going to Broadstone employees.
There are nine family members in three generations that have ownership interests, along with 37 non-family employees with equity, officials said.
“We have a wonderful, supportive culture at Broadstone, where we try to treat all employees as part of the family,” Tait said. “In a family business, it is 24/7/365, so the highs are higher and the lows are lower.
“Fortunately, we haven’t experienced many lows. Our culture embraces growth. Each day brings something fresh, which keeps us all engaged and focused on success. To me, that is very exciting.”
For any family business or operations with no family ties, it is important to be positive, Tait says.
“It is important to be clear on roles, provide separation from emotional and business decisions and maintain a loving attitude—advice that is pertinent for all organizations,” she said.
Rufus Judson is a fifth-generation owner of the construction business, the Pike Cos., an operation that has been in existence since 1873.
He works with his father, Thomas Judson Jr., who is chairman, and his brother-in-law, Mauricio Riveros, who serves as chief innovation officer.
“There’s a wonderful and given level of trust we’ve got, and our interests are very much aligned,” Judson said. “(But) everything we do across the company is through the hard work of our great employees that are part of our enterprise.”
For businesses that consider bringing family into the mix, the decision has to be well thought out. First and foremost, the success of the business is paramount, Judson said.
“I would be focused on making sure that that business is successful in its own right regardless of future generations,” Judson said. “Run it as a business and surround yourselves with great employees, and with that hopefully grow great clients. And if you’ve got the opportunity to bring in future generations, then I would consider that a good opportunity that I would look at very carefully.
“It’s been a great path forward for our family,” he added.
For now, Judson is focusing on what he can do to continue to make the business successful for the future, he said.
“It’s been my life’s work, and I’m very happy that I chose this path for myself and for my family,” he said. “I have a young family now, and moving into the future I feel great about what we’re doing—as a family first and secondly as a business.”
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