Spotlight: Keeping it in the family

Fathers, sons and daughters representing distributorships and service shops that have been family run for generations gathered for the first-ever “Next Generation Seminar” at Northwood University’s Midland, Mich., campus last month.

While the program’s topics explored many dynamics at work in the aftermarket, the emphasis was on the nuances and opportunities of passing along business legacies – helping secure that succession stays in the family. The event, sponsored by the university and Randall-Reilly Publishing (publisher of Truck Parts & Service), also served to showcase the campus’ new Sloan Family Building for Aftermarket Studies which opened in May.

In an industry that often cites attracting and retaining quality employees, particularly management, as its top challenge, the “Next Generation Seminar” was a first-of-its kind event.

“This is not only the first ‘Next Generation Seminar,’ it is the first seminar we have ever done in the Sloan Building for the Aftermarket,” says James John, chair of Northwood University’s Aftermarket Management Department. “It’s extremely important to show prospective students that we’ve really put a lot of emphasis on the aftermarket. We built a rather large, state-of-the-art structure to house it, and we like to think it reflects on the importance we place on the industry, and of our importance to it.”

Prospective students – including a pair of brothers and two cousins – as well as parents attended the seminar, which served to both inform about the university and its offerings and cover aftermarket and general business subjects. Additionally, the group participated in roundtable discussions focused on family-run business issues.

Topics covered included:

  • An overview of the global economy and the role the aftermarket has in it (presented by Dr. Timothy Nash, Northwood’s vice president of Graduate and Special Programs and dean of the Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management);
  • Strategies for growing business (presented by Northwood’s Dr. William Busby);
  • Evaluating core business strengths in a competitive landscape (presented by Northwood’s Dr. Lisa Fairbairn);
  • The flat reality of heavy-duty distribution (presented by Bill Wade, Wade & Partners);
  • Ethics in the aftermarket (presented by Craig Fry, Wade & Partners); and
  • Building a family business and private equity (presented by F. Michael Reilly, president and CEO of Randall-Reilly Publishing).

Justin Pasdach, 22, says the curriculum was reminiscent of material learned, and applied, when he took his finals a few months ago at Eastern Illinois University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. The emphasis on family businesses – Justin’s father is Pete Pasdach, a former Truck Parts & Service Distributor of the Year award winner and owner of Midway Truck Parts, headquartered in Bridgeview, Ill., which has 14 locations – helped put the academics in perspective.

“It was refreshing in that it reminds me of why we do what we do and why I made the decision to go to work for my dad,” says Pasdach. “It really drives that idea home.”

Pasdach already has been accepted to the university’s DeVos Graduate School of Management and will be attending this fall. He says he was attracted to the program because “they have a different style of teaching that doesn’t sound like traditional MBA programs. It’s more case based with greater student involvement.”

Why stay in the family business at all?

“It’s like playing for the home team,” Pasdach says. “Why should I help someone else’s business succeed when I can help my father’s business, something he’s built with his own blood, sweat and tears?”

Another recent graduate in attendance was Ryan Palmer, of Palmer Spring Co., in Providence, R.I. He also plans to play for the home team, one that is six generations deep.

The origins of the company date back to 1849 when Joseph Palmer first came to America and opened a spring shop – for horse-drawn buggies – in Boston. The company has been family owned ever since, expanding services and locations throughout the years.

mer says he first heard about the “Next Generation Seminar” through the Service Specialists Association (SSA).

“I thought it would be really good for me to come out here and to see Northwood. When I first heard about passing the business on from generation to generation, I first thought, ‘well we do a pretty good job doing that already, as we have for the past six generations,'” says Palmer. “But, there are new challenges and new differences that each generation comes up against. I’m a sponge for knowledge at this point in my life so I wanted to learn as much as I can about the industry.”

An added benefit, he says, is meeting peers-to-be and creating relationships that will last for years and into future trucking trade shows and events.

Palmer explains why he chose to stick with the family business. “It really seems like a default kind of thing for me to come into the business. I grew up with the business, my father’s taken me there, I grew up with the business all my life. I have strong feelings for my family and I want to carry on the tradition.

“The next step for me is where to take the business in the years ahead. My father added the brake business, where before we were just suspensions,” Palmer continues. “I’d like to add something. I think every generation should add something new to further the business and to continue it.”

Breaking Ground
While Northwood University’s new Sloan Family Building for Aftermarket Studies was officially dedicated in May, from an academic perspective it officially broke ground last month with the “Next Generation Seminar,” expected to be the first in an ongoing program to cultivate the aftermarket’s future leaders.

The building will be fully utilized for classes this fall.

Highlights of the new facility include:

  • Two stories and 25,500 square feet;
  • Construction began March 2007;
  • Named in honor of O. Temple Sloan, Jr., founder of General Parts International, Inc., and Carquest, and his family;
  • An approximately $6 million investment;
  • Includes classrooms, student and faculty lounges, conference rooms, an auditorium and faculty offices; and
  • Audio-visual connectivity with other Northwood campuses.
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