All in the Family

How to keep a family-owned business thriving from one generation to the next

Open communication is paramount for any business, and that applies to family and nonfamily members. “We’ve seen surveys where the most important thing an employee wants is being in on things. It’s even more important than salary,” insists Raphel, who is also a principal of Brigantine Media, a publishing house in St. Johnsbury that focuses on business books. Being kept in the loop is important for nonfamily employees and family members, he says. “You just can’t assume, because you have your son or daughter in your business, that they know what’s going on.”

“I hope my wife and I ride off into the sunset,” says Michael. He and Nellie, who is 60, are approaching retirement age, so succession planning is a growing topic of discussion between them and their daughter, as it should be for any family business looking to thrive for generations to come.

Raphel urges entrepreneurs to put together a succession plan sooner rather than later. It’s not that the successor has to take control immediately, but all involved need to sit down, discuss how ownership will be transferred, and agree to it, he says.

Nina admits to feeling some pressure because of her parents’ eventual exit from the business, but she says it motivates her. “I’m well aware of the history and legacy,” she says. “The younger generation must realize that the previous generation worked hard to grow their clientele. As a new generation, I have to continue to do this, not just with my parents’ name but with my name, with me as part of this business. I have to make it my own.”

And the guidance of her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather is helping usher Nina into a role of leadership and of bringing long-term goals to fruition. They include expanding into a larger facility as well as to areas beyond the local community. As her duties increase and she continues helping her father and the staff implement new business ideas, one thing that may need updating is the company’s moniker. “Granddaddy was a visionary, but he just didn’t see that coming,” says Michael, with a laugh. “It’s always been Jones & Sons. Maybe one day we’ll change it.”

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