It’s all in the family
Executives share the benefits of being part of a family-owned business
Operating a family-owned business can present unique challenges, but it can also provide great benefits that are unavailable in the traditional employer/employee setting. A family-owned business can be more nimble, operate with a long-term plan in mind and take advantage of a management style born out of familial connections. NH Business Review reached out to several leaders who run family-owned businesses to learn more about this unique arrangement.
Nick Mercier is the CEO at Macy Industries, a Hooksett-based custom metal fabrication firm originally founded in the family’s basement in 1975 by his father, Marcel Mercier.
Scott Knightly is the owner of EnviroVantage in Epping. His wife, Tonya, is the company’s CFO; his brother Curt is the corporate compliance officer; and his cousin, Nick Knightly, works at the company part time as well. EnviroVantage, founded in 1984, specializes in asbestos abatement, lead paint removal, mold remediation, demolition, decontamination and a number of other services.
Heritage Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, Electric was founded in 1986 by brothers Steve and Craig Chartier. With plumbing in their blood and a passion to succeed, the Chartiers started a business based on shared values and a focus on quality.
What’s the best part about being involved in a family-owned business?
Mercier: “The best part about being a family business is the opportunity to run a business based on family values. One of us win, we all win. One of us falls down, we are all there to help. Furthermore, this set of values extends to our customers, which in turn makes them customers for life.”
Knightly: “For me, it’s seeing my family all the time. It’s not just seeing your cousins on holidays. And I get to have lunch with my wife every day — that’s the best thing. My wife is brilliant. She’s got a dual degree out of UNH — English Literature and Accounting, so she’s a true CFO. She handles the finances, which takes a huge, huge burden off my shoulders.”
Steve Chartier: “For me, it’s more than thinking about ‘blood’ relatives as a family business, but rather incorporating a culture that we are all family — providing care, growth, opportunity and a culture of empowerment to all of our team members.”
What makes your relationship with other family members in the business so successful?
Mercier: “Honestly, we think of Macy Industries not as a family-run company, but as a company run on family values. We feel this approach is more inclusive for all members of our company community.”
Knightly: “I think that trust and honesty is the biggest thing. The other thing is they know me so well that it keeps me grounded. They’re not afraid to say what other coworkers would be afraid to say. If I’m being difficult, they’ll tell me if I’m getting off track. They keep you pretty well grounded in a humbling way.”
Chartier: “I think the key to all relationships starts with trust and respect — you must create an environment where people can trust you and also be trusted.”
What is the best piece of advice you got about working in a family-owned business?
Mercier: “Don’t lose sight of your roots! Most employees of a family-owned business become accustomed over time to the ‘family feel’ — that is, the close, personal connection they have to the founding family. In many cases, this emotional attachment to the company becomes the number one reason that the employee remains at the company. The danger, therefore, is losing valuable employees over time if company culture is not kept as a priority.”
Knightly: “Keep it at work. I came home one night late and unloaded about some things that happened at work. Then I rolled over and slept like a baby because I got it all off my chest. Meanwhile, my wife was sitting there all night worrying about what I just talked about. We now have an unwritten rule — keep it at work.”
Chartier: “Every successful organization has to have a clear vision that positions everyone to be looking in the same direction. It also must have a clear mission and purpose — this brings clarity to why we do what we do each day, no matter what the role is. And finally, you must have a clear set of values that are not just fancy or sentimental words, but rather become the standards by which people are hired, fired, celebrated and disciplined.”
What has been the most rewarding part of working in a family-owned business?
Mercier: “Providing meaningful, sustained employment to our employees is among our company objectives. Our employees, in turn, reward us with their loyalty. The relationship between family and employee is in this way mutually beneficial.”
Knightly: “Having the opportunity to make a difference. We can help the employees help themselves. We can give them a better education, the opportunity to move up in the company, and we all really enjoy taking on causes we feel are good for society. We do a lot of charitable work in our organization. It gives me the opportunity to further some of the things we think are important.”
Chartier: “Watching others grow and seeing their potential realized more and more over the years — this is very rewarding.”
Where do you see your business in 10 years?
Mercier: “Given that one of our company goals is to provide sustained employment to our employees, we spend a great deal of our time thinking about that. We’ve asked ourselves, ‘What is the material of the future? What will our customers expect from us?’ This has led us to evolve over time, adding licensed technicians to our ranks so that we are more of a solutions provider than just a metal fabricator. By increasing our product offering to include services, and by expanding the range of the materials we work with, we believe that we have better safeguarded our employees’ future.”
Knightly: “We’ve been working on it for the past 10 years so we can transition it — not so much to the next generation because my kids are 14 and 16 and they have no idea what they want to do — but so we can run it successfully with the employees we have now. If I eventually retire or back out, I’m not going to do it without my wife. There’s a lot of structural implementation that will be needed. We’re trying to grow and create a successful organization that’s well-run with good morals and a good reputation. We have employees that will prepare to run it even better in 10 years.”
Chartier: “Growing throughout New England by aligning more co-building purpose partners within our vision, mission and values.”
How do you manage succession from one generation to the next?
Mercier: “This question could not be more critical. One of the most common failings of a family-owned business is the lack of smooth transitions between generations, not to mention infighting between family members. For years we have depended on the University of New Hampshire Center for Family Business for their expertise and support. We feel that the guidance we have received from the UNH Center for Family Business has mitigated a lot of the risks that normally come from succession in a family-owned business.”
Knightly: “For my kids it may strictly be a stock option. I don’t want to pigeonhole them into this — that this is strictly what they have to do. I’ll give them the opportunity, but we want them to go on and pursue their own aspirations. If they do want to, there’s room for them. This business is a little different because it’s environmental. They can’t work until they’re 18 anyway because we deal with hazardous waste and contaminants, so it’s not an easy transition there. If they do, they’ll have to start from the bottom and work their way up. We’re a strong company set up for success.”
Chartier: “First, I think succession starts with the proper attitude that it’s not about you — it’s about the future of the business and the people’s lives that are impacted by the business each day. From there, I think like all business decisions, you have to have a clear vision — personally and professionally — and work through the process. Communication is the key, keeping all people up-to-date on what is going on. Every situation is different and it will need specific attention and care given to it for the best outcomes for the business as a whole.”