Spotlights Challenges, Benefits
Follow the lineage of many businesses back to their beginnings and chances are there will be a family involved. According to Harvard Business School, half of all companies in the U.S. are family businesses. Closer to home, 45 percent of Northwood students report that their family owns a business and 34 percent of alumni report they own part or all of their own businesses. Without question, family-owned businesses are the legacies of more than a third of our students and alumni, as well as the backbone of our country’s free enterprise economy.
The reason for the proliferation of family-owned businesses is clear: they promote individual freedom while fulfilling market needs. Northwood’s appreciation for and commitment to family-owned businesses powered the Family Business Forum, hosted by the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise in February.
The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise integrates creativity and free enterprise through intentional and mindful cultivation to realize inventions, innovations, and new business opportunities in entrepreneurship and family enterprise. The Center focuses on four areas: Family-Owned Business, Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, and New Business Development. For more information, visit www.northwood.edu/creativity-enterprise.
The Forum kicked off Northwood’s Family-Owned Business Days by highlighting the distinctive intersection of multi generational entrepreneurship. Sharing their views about the rewards and challenges of being part of a family business, four students described how truly “up close and personal” company success – or failure – is for many in the Northwood community.
With honesty and integrity, the exceptional student panel described similar challenges opportunities, and rewards despite their families’ very different businesses.
Castle Rock, Colorado
Peter Leonard and his father became equity partners with their purchase of a Dazbog Coffee franchise in 2011, which he ran during his last year of high school. When Leonard began attending Northwood a year later, he stayed deeply involved in the business even as he took classes 1,000 miles away from the young but robust franchise. Since 2011, their store sales have increased by 10 percent each year. Northwood also recognized Leonard’s efforts as a student business owner by awarding him the 2016 Entrepreneurship Award, which is presented to one senior each year who exemplifies exceptional entrepreneurial leadership and talent.
After graduation, Leonard returned to Dazbog Coffee, ready to brew continued growth. He believes business success will reflect what he learned at Northwood.
“What I learned in class, along with the professors’ personal experiences of family business successes and failures, are invaluable to my business,” said Leonard.
APM Mosquito Control
Benjamin Seago’s family business was started by his father in 1995. Today, Michigan’s largest privately owned mosquito control company serves a large part of southeastern and mid-Michigan. APM Mosquito Control may have been destined to pass from father to son, but the reality of that timing was definitely not part of the plans. Seago’s dad tragically passed away in 2010, leaving his mother and uncle to take over the business. The dream his father created is now partly Seago’s responsibility, even as he attends Northwood.
Seago’s dual “careers” of student and family business member present more challenges than many young people face. Yet because of Northwood’s focus on entrepreneurship and business, the two duties overlap in unexpectedly beneficial ways.
“As issues came up with the business, I had ‘counsel sessions’ with some of my professors. They offered ideas and insights that my mom then integrated into our operations,” said Seago. “Northwood’s student organization, Family Enterprise Alliance, is a big help, too. It gives us a chance to talk about the ups and downs of our very fortunate but uniquely challenging situations.”
Kennedy Shea’s grandfather successfully employed a proven technique for starting his own business when he bought an established nursery in 1965. The 50-year-old Freeman Nursery is now under the skilled management of Shea’s parents, who have branched out in response to a changing market and intense competition. Focusing on clear differentiation, her mother introduced the nursery’s “we grow, we know” philosophy that highlights both their multigenerational expertise and healthy supply of Michigan-native and indigenous plants.
Shea’s parents are using the key principles for success that her grandfather planted but are not afraid to innovate. And, as the third generation in the company, neither is Shea, who uses an iPad to draw her landscape designs.
“Family businesses aren’t handed down like royalty, they are handed off like in a relay. Along with that hand-off comes the incredible responsibility to hold on to the baton and keep running toward success with all your might,” said Shea.
Power Process Piping
The idea that family businesses are all small “mom and pop” shops is a far cry from the reality that the Williams’ family company exemplifies. Power Process Piping, started by Griffin Williams’ grandfather in 1974, is a heavy industrial contractor that specializes in the fabrication and installation of piping systems. Now with his father as president and CEO, the company handles multimillion-dollar projects for a variety of industries in and around the Detroit-Metro area. Big products and big markets created a “big business” pipeline for the family.
Williams joined his father after graduating in May 2016. He is proud to continue the legacy that his grandfather started, but he believes his role goes beyond maintaining it. Williams intends to build on his grandfather’s and father’s successes for the generation that will follow him.
“I discovered something very important during a summer internship I had with another company. I loved the work and learned a lot,” noted Williams. “But I realized very quickly that I get much more satisfaction creating value for my family business, our employees, and our customers.”