Delaware family businesses chart different paths to success
NEWARK ““ The paths to success for first, second and third generation family business owners of some of Delaware’s most well-known and -liked companies have often required hard work, proper planning and delicate discussions among members.
Their advice to others starting out came Thursday, Nov. 21, during the “Family Owned Business Stories: The Good, Bad & Ugly” panel discussion produced by Delaware Business Times, a unit of the Martinelli family’s Today Media, and the University of Delaware’s Small Business Development Center.
Not all family members belong in the business, they agreed. Greg Buckley, president of Buckley’s Auto Care in Newport, said he had to fire his brother. Tom Nason, CEO of Nason Construction of Wilmington, mentioned a mutual stepping aside. And Nicholas Caggiano, owner of Nicola Pizza in Rehoboth Beach, said he just toughed it out for summers with relatives who didn’t fit in and then didn’t invite them back.
Family members need clearly defined roles or “lanes,” according to Buckley, whose father founded Buckley’s Auto Care in 1966. Today, the firm’s structure is much clearer than the past: He’s president, his sister serves as CEO, his son is a tech specialist, his son-in-law is a chassis specialist and his nephew is an engine specialist.
“And never go 50/50,” he said. “Someone has to be 51.”
Family businesses should also develop buyout rules to handle what happens when family members differ on corporate direction, suggested Margo Reign, a Small Business Development Center advisor, after Buckley’s comment.
Family members need to be committed, said Caggiano, who opened Nicola’s in 1971.
“Set an example,” he added. “Believe in the product. Do it all.”
Caggiano said that he sets an example by working seven days a week during the season, but Nason said it was important to define times when you’re not working: He and his wife, for example, don’t talk about work while at home.
“Work harder, stay later” to prove it’s skills and not a bloodline defining your value, Nason added.
“Don’t just get into [the family business] to be in it,” Buckley said. “Be a value. Be responsible and accountable. And be humble enough to be kicked around.”
They also agreed that there also has be to a commitment to education, whether on the job or through outside programs.
“You have to constantly be a student,” said Buckley, a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and now a participant in the Small Business Development Center’s GrowthWheel.
Outsiders are important to provided unbiased education and advice.
“I love other people’s advice,” Nason said. “I’m not very good about accepting it.”
Nason said his company, started by his grandfather in 1922, has endured because customer care is baked into its genetics.
“It’s not about the project, but the long-term relationship with the client,” he said. “My father once said that he never made a decision that wasn’t in the best interest of the client, and I hope that will be true for me.”
Buckley added that “if your goal is to create a legacy, that takes work.”
“Every day when I put on my shirt, my name and my company is over my heart, and I can’t give that up,” he said.
By Ken Mammarella