Family Business-Lessons Learned

September 12, 2013 // Business

Back in March 2004, I had little idea of what I was getting into joining a family owned business and especially owned by a family member (my brother and sister-in-law).  I was in the final months of my 18 year career with Grundfos Pumps located in Olathe, KS, just south of Kansas City when I received a call from my brother Steve.

Steve asked if I would come to Fresno, California and meet with his family (Steve, Eileen, Jason and Ryan) regarding their business, Geil Enterprises Inc.  During one of the meetings, I was asked if I would join the business and assume Steve’s role as President/CEO.  After careful consideration and lots of doubts, I decided to accept the opportunity. My charter was to grow the value of the business and prepare my two nephews to eventually run the business.  Both objectives were achieved. This is a short story about the what I learned from the experience so that others can benefit if ever in this situation.

Let me start by saying it was a great decision to join the company, but not without it’s challenges, which is expected.  Not having background and experience managing a family owned business, especially my own family members, made the challenges more interesting and unique.

Here are the takeaways:

1.  Have clearly defined expectations, which I mentioned above.

2.  Business is business and the fundamentals do not change.

3. Engaging the non-family members (employees) is critical to success.

4. The first thing to go are all entitlements.

5.  It’s OK to challenge the norms and create a new culture, if necessary.

6. Move beyond the previous leadership as quickly as possible to establish focus and trust.

7. Develop a network of other family owned companies.

8. Maintain a sense of humor at all times

The last point was easy if you know our family.  We do not have issues laughing at ourselves and enjoying life.

This is just a sample of some of the learning elements to leading a family business.  There were other areas to cover, but they are more germane to our company, but very important.  Some of those areas include compensation, board governance, succession and exit strategies.  If you would like to know more about how to run a successful family owned business, please contact me at