The Cigar Box
I don’t remember exactly when my Dad started his business, but, when I was about 11 years old, I found the cigar box. Every so often I would peek inside. Sometimes it would contain a lot of cash, sometimes very little. What I had discovered was my father’s business account. This was my first experience with cash flow.
My father had a job at Union Carbide but it seemed to me that every waking hour he was not at the factory, he was working on his fence installation business.
In my teenage years, he quit the factory job to devote all his time to his business. I can remember working with him on weekends and in the summer while I was in school. I learned how to work with people who had different personalities and attitudes. I learned the importance of great customer service. I learned how to work hard. I also remember the joy of getting paid at the end of the week.
After high school I enrolled in the University of Tennessee and became the first person in my family to graduate from college. I came home with a degree and a wife, Jennifer, my high school sweetheart, who had also gone to Tennessee.
Dad and I never talked about me joining the family business. We both just assumed that I would and it seemed like the right step. I was there for 17 years. We expanded into pet equipment and sold the fence business. We grew from a local operation into a national supplier of pet equipment to the then-emerging mass market. Our family was also growing as Jennifer and I became the parents of three beautiful daughters.
Eventually we drafted a buy-sell agreement so that I could take over after Dad retired. But that was not to be. Dad and I had differing opinions, visions, and directions for our business. Finally, the time came for me to leave. Parting was not easy and there were a lot of hurt feelings on both sides. Though we did not realize it at the time, we were not alone - only 30% of family businesses successfully transition to the second generation and 12% to the third generation.
Dad continued with his business while Jennifer and I started our own packaging and distribution company. Dad was our greatest supporter in this new endeavor. Within a decade our company was employing 300 people. But the economic downturn after 9-11 in 2001 and the effects of NAFTA on the USA manufacturing sector severely impacted our business; 75% of our clients either closed or moved their business to Mexico or China over the next 18 months. We realized that our business was not going to survive, so we made the decision to close. It was a painful time for us personally because so many families depended on us for their livelihood. But there was comfort in the knowledge that we had done the right thing –something that a family business should always strive to do.
As Paul Harvey said, there always is “the Rest of the Story.” For the past 10 years, I have been using my personal experience working with family business leaders as a family adviser, coach and leadership training facilitator to help them THRIVE, not simply survive, in today’s fast paced business environment and prepare for a successful generational transition.
In my view a family business should serve not only its customers but also its employees, suppliers and community. Those who know me can always expect me to ask them “How may I serve you today?”
My Dad is 90 and just retired. He still has that cigar box. Someday it will be mine.
The Basketball Court
That pretty much sums up what I knew about being in a family business when Greg and I first married. But so many things that I valued about Greg – his integrity, good character, work ethic, independence, vision and sincerity –were all things that he learned from being a part of his family business. So, I was in – just didn't realize at the time how deep into the water I would get.
A Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville gave me the opportunity to serve for over 30 years in various aspects of public service working with individuals, couples, children, families, dislocated workers, organizations and employers. And during the same time I also held various positions in our family business from laborer to manager to Vice President of Human Resources. Later in life, I returned to graduate school and earned my Master's degree in Counseling from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
In recent years I've worked in human resources and workforce development as well as serving a career coach/counselor for professionals who are in transition. My certifications as a Myers-Briggs practitioner and as a Global Career Development Facilitator enable me to fulfill my passion for helping others achieve their potential.
When I played basketball at the University of Tennessee, I learned a number of things. You’re probably asking what this could possibly have to do with business. Read on and you will see.
When I was a student, I played basketball at the University of Tennessee and we former Tennessee players have a saying, “Once a Lady Vol, always a Lady Vol.” When I first joined the team I did not fully understand what that meant. But over the years, I’ve learned the values that come from playing a team sport – teamwork, fairness, diversity, practice and perseverance – shape my whole life. I came to realize that these team values are all things that are so important in family business as well. I am looking forward to serving with Greg and, together, nurturing family businesses in the years to come at the Tennessee Center for Family Business.
We would like to have you join us in this journey and hear your family business "cigar box" story as well. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How may we serve you today? Greg and Jennifer Lewis