Building A Successful Family Business

Last PageBy John Paul Strong


My first memories of going to work with my dad take me back to when I was about 5 years old. He would take me to his office a couple of times in the summer. I remember coloring and drawing pictures of cars that mimicked the advertisements they were creating. I didn’t really do much, but at least I could see what he did all day (which was mainly talk on the phone).

I grew up watching him travel around the country. He was able to go to many interesting places and had a lot of great clients that he also considered friends. Our family would go on trips with these clients and spend holidays with them all over the country.

When I was 13 years old my dad told me and my brother that he was retiring and had sold his company to his employees. We didn’t really understand what “selling to his employees” meant, but what caught our attention was his retirement. It didn’t really make sense at the time because he was 45 years old and nobody we knew had a parent who was retired.

What did make sense (a statement that I can still recite to this day) was when he said, “I sold to my employees because I would never ask all the people who helped make my company so successful walk in one day and take orders from my son.” He explained that he had seen it over and over in his client’s businesses. The father had built up a really great business and then turned it over to his children who didn’t really care about it and ended up making ruins of what the father had built. He also discussed how he would always be there to help us start our own business in the future. He felt an obligation to his employees that they would not have somebody much younger and with little experience step in and become “the boss.”

Now, looking back to when I started my career I can see that what he did was probably the greatest blessing I received.  It forced me to get out and go find a job with another company because my father no longer ran his. I was ultimately on my own. My new career was in advertising, and I was hooked the moment I started.

After a few years of working for a firm, I decided I wanted to go out even further and start my own company. I turned to my father for his help and support which he gladly gave me. He invested the bulk of his time into helping me start my own company, Strong, LLC, where he and I would become partners. By this time I had already learned enough on my own to develop my style and strengths. Additionally, my father was an invaluable source in guiding me to overcome my own weaknesses.

It’s been almost 10 years since my father and I started working together, and we have literally had only three disagreements. The time I spent on my own, without being the owner’s son, allowed me to learn at my own pace.  I was also able to see how employees think about whom they work for and what motivates them.

Don’t misinterpret this to think that a second or third generation business won’t be successful if the children of the current owners walk in one day and are suddenly in charge. Everyone’s situation is different. My case just proved to be successful because there wasn’t anything that I could “walk into” and I had to earn it on my own. Time to learn and grow my own professional style and speed was truly the perfect combination for our family business and the success that it has acquired.

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