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Family Business – the original life coach…

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Theodore Roosevelt

Life Coach
noun – a person who counsels and encourages clients on matters having to do with careers or personal challenges

Family business. There is such a wide range of imagery that it draws. You could ask 10 people to describe a family business and I’m pretty confident you’d get 10 different answers. There’s the “hardworking” family business image; being to work first, being the last to leave, cleaning the toilets, taking out the garbage. Doing whatever it takes to get by. There’s the image of the lazy “entitled family’ riding on family trust funds. The list goes on and on. For me, family business has been one of the best life experiences I could hope for. This wasn’t just about the blessing of being born into a family business, or the pride knowing you’re part of something bigger than yourself. For me it was like breathing. It was just what you live for.

As a young kid, I was already in love with the family business. I’m not sure what it was or can put my finger on it exactly. I think it was about having respect for this amazing “thing”. I remember being in maybe kindergarten or first grade and opening the sliding door on the side of the cutting shed – a converted pig barn. Inside the shed, the sensory intake still sticks; an old fire alarm bell would ring as a telephone ringer; a plywood office nothing much more than a six-foot by maybe ten-foot long room to take orders and call for equipment repairs. Pallets on the ground in various levels of completion. There was usually a pallet fairly close to the door I could sit on. A pallet of shim or Random wall stone, something that wasn’t added to very often. From this vantage point during summer I would often just and watch. Far enough to be out of any danger, but close enough to sit back and take it all in. The smell of dirt, dust, and hydraulic oil. Sounds of screeching metal from stone splitters as the teeth came down on the stone. The BANG of the splitter sending a couple hundred tons of pressure through the stone to snap it to uniform sizes. Dim fluorescent lights hanging from fine chainlinks. Powdered dust an inch thick on the floors. There was nothing glamorous about this place. Nothing that would make you think this was a great place to be. But since those early days, I was hooked.

Splitting and palletizing stones in the old pig barn.

Even at that young age, it was more than just the industry that really got me excited. It was thinking about the possibilities. Being part of a bigger thing, watching it grow and help make it into something special. As I was growing up, I worked a lot… at least a lot by 12-16 year old standards, maybe not so much as a farm kid would have. The people I worked with were like a family as well. I wanted to be there every minute possible.

I never minded the work. It was what I wanted. As the years went by, I became more and more grateful for the family business. It gave me a purpose. It became my why. Everything I did I used the backstop of “how will this help me create something better at work.” It was never really about money for me. It’s really hard to explain that part to someone I think. Don’t get me wrong. As a kid it was great. I always had cash to spend. I bought nice things. I felt accomplished already at a very young age.

Last day of deliveries

When I started college I really learned to appreciate the business and what it did for me and my career. During my first few summers of college I drove semi-truck for local deliveries. I got to meet contractors on-site and learn what was important to them. I worked Saturday’s in the showroom and learned about masonry, fireplaces, landscaping; so many areas that helped my knowledge of the building and landscaping industry. To this day I can still spot different manufacturers brick, good installs (stone and brick), and understand why a wood burning fireplace isn’t drafting correctly in certain situations.

Working the sales floor in Fond du Lac with Dave Amel

I worked on pricing updates creating sell sheets and list prices. I still remember the old lime-green and white dot-matrix paper price lists we used to get from our supplier Edward George. Literally stacks of paper with thousands of part numbers and prices for fireplaces to be updated. I learned a lot from a salesperson named Mathi. She was a smart lady and knew fireplaces and masonry inside out. If she didn’t know something, she knew how to find the answers.

Working in these areas helped weave me into thinking about the business
differently and what was needed to make it become an even better place. Going into college I knew I wanted to major in Marketing, because of course you needed to understand how to market what you do… I sure wasn’t going into account… no patience for that. I really didn’t know what else there was in the business world. I remember meeting my counselor at UW-Oshkosh for the first time. He talked about the different business degrees and one I never hear of struck a chord: Operations Management. Right away I knew that was something we could use. I thought, “what the heck – I’ll double major. It’s not that much more work.” Then he talked about an End User Emphasis… computers. “Well we need that too. What the heck – it’s only an extra two classes.”

You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.

Michael Jordan

I was all set up. I had a purpose and knew what I needed to do. My classes were in line. I had a plan.

I didn’t count on how the family business experiences I was having translated into an improved school experience. I wasn’t what you’d call a stellar student in high school. I was smart enough to get by, but didn’t go out of my way to ace the classes either. College was a whole new thing though. I’m not sure if it was because I was putting my own money into it, or if it was because work made school easy. It wasn’t that I aced all my classes, I didn’t graduate with high honors or anything. I did place in the top 10 percent of my graduating class on the final test to show cumulative knowledge though. I remember finishing that test and thinking how easy it felt.

What the family business gave me was visibility into how a business ran. While I was learning I used ingenuity to relate it to the business in all areas, not just my majors. It made me a great student in ways I never imagined when I started college. Life was different. When I was young I dreamed of making the family business great. As a student, I envisioned what it would take to make it great. Now as an owner I work with a team that is driven to make that vision reality.

College graduation – why pick the normal cap and gown picture – this is more my speed. Here with my buddy Kurt and Tony (who I still work with today!)

So like I said, the money was a great perk along the way, but It’s always been about being a part of something more and being in the driver’s seat. Working with people that have the same goals and aspirations makes every day more exciting than the last. These are the best part of a family business. It’s a coach that gives you all the angles and options. You just have to be willing to embrace and grow that which you already know. I got lucky. I’ll never forget that.

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