The joys of running the family business

Management Lucas Deal July 28, 2014

This is Part II of Truck Parts & Service’s three-part special report on aftermarket family businesses. For an introduction, CLICK HERE.

Those who’ve done it say running a family business can be incredibly rewarding, keeping active family involved and drawing others into the industry.

“It’s not about making money to me,” says Joe Ward, head of First Call Truck Parts, says. “Obviously that’s important, but to me the greatest part [of running my own business] is it allows me to be passionate, and gives me the freedom to do what I want to do.”

“One of the joys of a family business is we don’t have any quarterly shareholder’s meetings, we don’t have to answer to someone when we decide to do something,” says Andy Robblee, president, Six Robblees. “We can make decisions that may not translate into quarterly success, but they might set us up for long-term success.

“We have the freedom to do so much more, to take some chances, and that’s a great opportunity.”

Point Spring president and CEO Bill Ryan says it was one of the biggest motivators in his decision to return to the family business after five years with Cummins out of college.

“There’s nothing like being able to make decisions and see what the results are,” he says, adding the ability to wait out a decision is equally rewarding.

Dave Settles, president, Weldon Parts, agrees.

“We can be patient and absorb a bad quarter, or even a bad year, and other companies can’t always do that. They might have to shift course after six months, and then come back to what they wanted to do later.”

Family businesses can also build strong business-employer relationships, mainly due to their size.  Small businesses are conducive for building personal relationships with employees.

Approximately 40 percent of respondents to Truck Parts & Service’s survey said their family business employs 25 people or less. Only 26 percent said their operation has more than 151 employees.

Aftermarket family business facts

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Source: Truck Parts & Service reader survey.

And even in the case of larger operations, employee-employer relationships can still be impressively strong. Family businesses grow because of their employees, and those relationships grow as time goes passes.

Ryan says Point Spring & Driveshaft has eight veteran employees whose children also have recently joined the organization. Settles says his team has an employee that’s been with the business since the 1960s.

In both cases the employees started when the companies were smaller, and as they have grown, so too have their roles.

Though they don’t share the same name, they are definitely part of the family.

“Our employees are the DNA of our business. What they do for [Point Spring & Driveshaft] is invaluable,” says Ryan. “Ultimately I may be the guy that makes a decision but they have a say in that and that’s important.”

That type of camaraderie can spread across a workforce.

“Our employees are excited to work for Six Robblees,” says Robblee. “That’s been great for us, because it’s made work more fun for everyone.”

It also makes Robblee very proud, he says. And pride is arguably the biggest motivator, providing the most happiness, for aftermarket family businesses today.

There’s something to be said for passing a business on from generation to generation, says Ryan.

“The feeling that comes with knowing the business will go on is very special,” he says, referring to son Sean, who recently joined the company. “Knowing there is someone who cares about business the way the family has cared about it, and is skilled enough to make it a better business, that’s been invigorating for me.”

He adds, “It’s a great feeling to know that with his skill set he can take it to the next level.”

That’s something Sean also looks forward to as he begins to work in the business.

“I think the business has to come first, but there is some special significance there,” he says. “It’s almost like gravy on top.”

“There are a lot of challenges to this [running a family business], but it is incredibly rewarding,” says Settles. Especially, “taking this business from where my dad had it to that next level, and to a position where my children can take over.”

Pouliot says his biggest source of pride is that he’s built Macpek to thrive without him.

“It’s not something you like to think about but if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, life would go on,” he says. “The business would go on … You have to copycat yourself so if something ever does happen, the business is prepared.” 

For Part III of this Truck Parts & Service special report, CLICK HERE.