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A Chip Off The Block: Working With Dad

By Lee Rennick

When your father is your boss or partner, how do you handle Father’s Day? Do you wish him Happy Father’s Day at work? There is more to this question than meets the eye. All of the top business magazines and blogs offer advice on how to make the family and work relationship, well, work. It can be a minefield.

Locally, a number of family businesses have successfully passed from one generation to another because they follow the advice of the real experts – their Dads. Here is how local companies have known these tips long before they hit the pages of Entrepreneur, Inc. or Forbes.


 Separate Business and Family
Don and Chris Day
Team Day, Intero Real Estate Services

When asked about working with his father, Chris Day said, “My father and I work well together because we keep work separate from our personal life as best as we can.”

It is important to keep business and family separate. On way to do that is to diving the work according to the strengths of each person. Day notes that he and his father love that they have different strengths, which makes for a successful team when they allow each other to operate within their skill set.

“We get to have fun together,” said Day, cultivate relationships with wonderful people, and learn from each other.”

Day further stated that being family that there is also a better understanding between them when dealing with personal things that come up in life. They share the value that family comes first, so there’s compassion and empathy for those times.

“We can balance each other and are happy to stand in the gap when needed because we understand why that person needs to step away.”

Best Advice From Dad: Family always comes before work. You have to be a good leader at home before you can lead outside the home.


Define Roles Carefully
Kevin and Wes Wax
Wax Family Printing, Wax Eloquent 

In an article in Entrepreneur Magazine, employee management expert, Dr. David G. Javitch, shares “… that you need to clarify the specific goals each of you agrees to meet so that behaviors and attitudes are directed toward meeting the company’s goals and mission. Ensure that any statement of goals you create is specific, can be measured and assessed, and can be successfully achieved.”

Kevin Wax has always done just that. He has had the privilege of working closely with all four of his children. When they came to work in the family business, they were given very specific roles.

“They always knew generally what they needed to do,” said Wax, “we gave them different roles or job positions as they gained experience and maturity. Role definition is key to a healthy work relationship with everyone; it’s absolutely vital for family members working together in a family business.”

While the business was founded by Kevin’s father, Nevin, in 1966, he has served as General Manager for 21 years. His wife, Rhonda, is the Financial Manager. Their son Weston is the Sales Manager. All roles and responsibilities flow through these three key positions.

While all of his children have held many different full-time and part-time roles at Wax Family Printing, currently only Weston is active in the company. Plans are in place, and the process has begun, for ownership transition to him. Weston represents the third generation of family ownership and tradition.

“Kevin and Weston have a cup of coffee together almost everyday,” said Rhonda Wax. “They love each other profusely and really like to run ideas past each other. They like to discuss issues or concerns because they so value each other’s perspective.”

Both Kevin and Rhonda enjoy watching their children take things they implemented to the next level.

“My father built a solid business that had a reputation for good ethics and good quality. I added to it by putting into place a great structure and good systems [which] increased sales substantially. Weston has taken it to the next level, and we are growing in diversity with the addition of our ad agency, Wax Eloquent.

Best Advice From Dad: Remember that no member of the family is entitled to a job or income just because they are born into the family.


Teach By Example
Gary and Norman Brown
Roscoe Brown Heating and Cooling

Larry Putterman, of Larry Putterman Consulting, is a successful entrepreneur who helps other businesses succeed and grow. On his blog, he offers the advice to teach by example and to know what is going on in your business by walking around and discovering what your employees know and don’t know. Gary Brown was doing this with his son, Norman, before Norman could drive.

“Every aspect of running a business was taught [by my father] and learned [by me] everyday,” said Norman Brown, “from accounting to legal to human resources to insurance, [and beyond]. When I was sixteen, he started me working full time during the summer. He had me learning all aspects of installation and service. There wasn’t a formal training program but my father always made sure I was learning the business.”

Gary’s strong aptitude for business and great personal character is something Norman strives to emulate. Working side by side with his dad, Norman had the best teacher, trainer and mentor anyone could wish for. Thanks to his father’s teachings from that early age, Norman has always felt secure in his preparedness and this has helped the business to continue to grow today.

“I grew up working around Roscoe Brown, doing odd jobs in the sheet metal shop and around the office. So when my father allowed me to start hiring his own team early in my career, I think I knew that he was preparing me to be his partner, then to take over when he retired.”

While Gary taught his son through experience and coaching, that is also how he taught his staff. “Having Gary as a father was like getting your masters without going to school,” said Brown. “He is a wealth of knowledge, but also a strong role model for not only me, but also all of the people he comes in contact with.”

Best advice from Dad: Always take care of your customers and do right by them.


Treat People Right
Doug and Andrew Young
City Title

Reputation in a business is everything, so if you treat people well, be honest, ethical, and make customers feel special, then your business will grow according to Putterman.

“Dad always said to treat people as you would like to be treated’” said Andrew Young. “Everyone who walks through the front door is a customer whether they buy or not.”

Young learned from his father that when you earn other people’s respect, it will go a long way. Working with customers, contractors, home owners, he knows that all people want respect, and you want to make sure that you show it to them, as well as gain theirs. Andrew learned about gaining respect by worked his way up in the family business by starting doing odds and ends for his dad like tearing out carpet in rental apartments, working in the warehouse, taking products that needed to acclimate to job sites, and reclaiming extra product. Once he proved himself, he took a step into sales. One day a person walked into the store and the sales staff said, Andrew, that’s your customer. Go help them. He was terrified, but he took a step forward and went to go help the customer.

Doug often reminded Andrew to be patient. Andrew would be all fired up to sell, and it didn’t always work that way. “Not everyone walking through the door wants to buy something,” said Young. “Some want information. Or maybe we don’t have what they are looking for. But if you are patient, and do the right thing, then it works out.”

Best Advice From Dad: Be patient. 


Community Clearly
Albert and Brandon Nelson
Nelson Brother's Funeral Chapels

With digital media there are many ways to send a message to others, but communicating is a whole other thing. Communication is all about sending and receiving the message; it is just as much about listening as it is talking. Communicating with family is critical.

In an article in Inc. Magazine, members of the Young Entrepreneur’s Council were asked to give advice about communications with family members when working together in business. One of the members advised, “What I’ve learned is that you have to write down everything: pay rates to responsibilities. You don’t want to think of anyone as having a flexible memory when it comes to money, but family members seem to be particularly susceptible to that problem.”

Brandon Nelson agrees that working with family can be difficult. He shares that it takes patience and great communication. Once the expectations are listed, everyone has to do their part.

“[But] the best thing about working with family,” said Nelson, “especially in the funeral industry, is that you really see first hand just how short, but precious, life is. Take full advantage of the God given time we have, because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.”

Nelson learned from his father to be a man of his word, and that means communicating with his customers honestly, and helping them through a time when they can be taken advantage of in their grief with care. Listen. Keep the promises you make to them. Go the extra mile.

Best advice from Dad: Have Integrity 


Have Shared Goals
Drs. Robert L. Dryden and Kimberly Dryden Pitts
Dryden Dentistry/Now Kimberly Dryden Pitts, DDS

“Professionally,” said Dr. Kimberly Dryden Pitts, my father had a very high standard for his work and believed in implementing technology that would allow him to do the best dentistry he could do… My team and I actively pursue the example he set for high standards in keeping pace with advancements in technology, and constant and never ending improvement. These have been the guiding principles I have followed throughout my career.”

One of the most important things a family business must have is shared vision. Dryden Pitts spent 17 years working with her father, and their similar goals led to a stronger relationship. He was her mentor.

Another belief they share is in giving back to the community. Robert was a member of the Lions Club. Dryden Pitts has chosen to donate her time to the Interfaith Dental Clinic.

Best advice from Dad: Give time equally between my home life, work life, and spiritual life. 


Put Your Ego Aside and Do What Is Best For The Company 
Jim and Peter Demos
Demos Restaurant 

As Nelson said above, working with family isn’t always easy. Sometimes emotions run high when there is a lot of pressure. Sometimes the generations have a difference of opinion.

My father fired me twice,” said Peter Demos. “Both times [it happened] two days before Christmas. The first time, I smarted off at him in the middle of the kitchen, and he yelled at me to get out. The second time, he was upset as we had a record day before eight in the evening. [But] we had a weak staff. When the stress of the night wore off, he was getting mad at the employees for not getting off the clock. When I defended them, he fired me. In both situations, we sat down hours later and talked about working together successfully.”

Sometimes the second generation has to listen to critiques they don’t want to hear, but in the end, when egos are put aside and what is best for the business become the main focus, then the customers end up winning.

“After becoming general manager of the Murfreesboro restaurant,” said Demos. “I got a little cocky from my success. My father came in on Easter and noticed the candy machine was dusty. I blew him off, so he decided to show me all of the problems with the store. He spent the next five hours chasing me around pointing out every procedural problem, every speck of dirt, every opportunity of wasteful practices to show me I was not as good as I thought I was. I wrote down every item I could think of and eventually created a checklist from this which all of our general managers [now] use to help spot check problems before they happen.”

Best advice from Dad: Never mess with people's money or food.


Make Time For Each Other
Jerry York and Heather Geren
Carpets By Ozburn 

Heather Geren and her father, Jerry York, make sure to separate their business and private lives, but for them the family dynamic actually adds to their working relationship. It strengthens their commitment to take care of each other on both fronts.

“I will not say [that] we never bring business to the dinner table,” says Heather Geren, “but it never affects our roles in the family. We truly ARE a family business. My Dad likes the fact my children [come to work] many times after school or during vacations, experiencing us working together to succeed for our family as a whole. It makes them proud to see what he has built!

My Mother drops in regularly throughout the week and the idea of us being in this together has taught us to depend on one another even more!”

Geren explains how it is important for her children to not only see her father working, but they also see him at their sporting, dance, and school events.

“There really IS a way to do it all,” Geren says, “and he has shown his family this through his work ethic, faith, and priorities.”

Best advice from Dad: Always be honest and always treat people the way you'd like to be treated! 

Working with family is often about compromise, but it can also be about pursuing a shared passion. And everyone agrees, that one of the best things about working with family is being able to spend more time together.

“One of the best things about getting to work with my dad,” said Chris Day, “is spending time together each day doing a profession we enjoy, and are privileged to do together.”

“Another great thing about working together is in the joy of sharing a common purpose generally,” said Rhonda Wax, “and accomplishing important projects specifically.”

When it comes to running a business, with these families, father really has known best. And the family unit and business has been stronger for his wisdom.

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