Perspectives from ISB

Business is personal for Eric Miller, CEO of Miller Welding and Machine Co. When he was in college, his grandfather, Dave R. Miller, made the “big decision” to expand the family business from a machine and welding shop into an integrated, full-service supplier to the industry.

Three of Dave’s sons ran the business after him. This vision that Dave created for the Miller family is often the missing “bridgework spanning the entrepreneurial vision that sparks the formation of a business and the long-term vision that allows family firms to pursue goals far into the future,” according to a PwC survey on family business conducted in 2017.

One company that is not only doing things right but thriving in its fifth generation of family leadership is CoorsTek. Today the company manufactures more than 300 technical compositions, serving customers in the automotive, defense, health, oil and gas, semiconductor and other sectors.

The fifth generation of Coors leaders sits in the CEO chair—though that chair has been expanded to fit three CEOs: Michael, Jonathan and Timothy Coors. The two brothers and one cousin, who have held a variety of roles both in and outside the company, are in almost perfect alignment on the company’s direction and strategy.

This company’s idea of success is based less on being a member of the family and more on being a caretaker of the business. “We have a very long-term view of the company and feel we are custodians of the business,” Timothy says. “Our fathers and uncles all had this view, which is how we grew the business.”

While CoorsTek had a large family to choose from, Hollman Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of sports, fitness and office lockers—which provided the lockers residing at Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints locker rooms, as well as The New York Times offices—went from father to son.

The company was founded in 1976 by Joe Hollman in Irving, Texas. His son Travis worked at the company for 10 years in a variety of positions until he left to pursue several successful entrepreneurial ventures. Joe stayed at the helm of the business for 35 years, setting the manufacturer on its path to continuous success. In 2011, Travis rejoined the business and set a new course.

“One of my driving forces is the pride I have in our family name and to make sure that continues,” explains Travis. His time away from the company taught him a lot about overcoming obstacles such as creating a company from scratch and the practical aspects of running a business. By the time he took the helm at Hollman, he knew just what he wanted to do and how to get there.

Travis’ style was different than his father’s and demonstrates how sometimes the philosophy can change from generation to generation. While his father favored a military-style approach to management with decisions made solely at the top, Travis has more of an open-door policy that encourages familiarity.

Creativity is at the core of an entrepreneurial style culture and is a swing right back to what inspired the original founders to create these companies in the first place. This leads to the basic question as how to explain the success of family businesses that make it to the third generation and beyond.

Is it tradition and the desire to live up to and continue the family name? Or is it the ability to adapt the original family values to continue a company where family members will want to work?

Source: Selko, Adrienne., April 05, 2018;


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