For some companies, business is all in the family. The business is part of the family tree, with a long lineage of generations passing the business on to the next.
For most, joining the family business is a choice rather than an obligation. And it often seems natural, because family members start working at the business as a summer job.
Pete Voss Jr. worked at Voss Equipment in late grade school, high school and college. “It must have been sometime when I was in college that it started to become more and more apparent that my best opportunity was to work for the company, and I wanted to as well,” Voss said.
He did not feel pressured to join the company, though, as his brother and sister had chosen not to. “I suppose my father talked to be about what it would be like if I worked for the company, but it was not assumed,” he said.
Out of college, Voss joined the Marines, which gave him leadership training and an opportunity to travel. When he took over Voss Equipment, it was the second time the ownership had been passed from father to son.
“It was passed from my grandfather to my father at a time when my father was involved to a certain degree and he demonstrated the ability to lead the company,” Voss said. “I’ve been president for five years. I’m 48 years old and my father feels comfortable with my leadership.”
While his father is still involved in the day-to-day operations, he comes in only two or three days a week. His father provides counsel and “we are in close contact,” Voss said.
“By having your father and grandfather, you have a wealth of knowledge to draw on,” Voss said. “Even though situations can be very different from ones that happened in the past, just having my dad’s experience and his dad’s experience makes us better able to get through the challenges of the current day.”
When inevitable cycles bring recessions such as the one we are in now, “sometimes just the fact that we’ve gone through these difficult times when there’s been a downturn in the economy gives us confidence that we’ve done this before and we’re going to get through it,” Voss said.
Employees also have that confidence because the company has survived other challenges. Having your surname as the company name leaves no doubt who is accountable, Voss said.
A succession plan was in place for both generational transitions. As for the next generation, it’s early. Voss has a son who is 17 and a daughter who is 14. “I think that like my dad told me, my brother and sister, if you elect to want to come to work in the family business, there would be a place for you. I really feel it’s their decision,” Voss said.
Other family-owned businesses also encourage their children to make their own decisions about their careers.
“Although my aspirations wavered over the years during high school and college, part of me always wanted to be in the family business,” said Anika Conger-Capelle, vice president and general manager and third generation at Conger Toyotalift.
She worked part-time at Conger during college, and after graduating, decided to go back to school for pre-med. That wasn’t her calling, though, and she started working full-time at Conger.
“It was never assumed. It kind of just happened. I have never looked back, 14 years later,” she said.
“Passion for the material handling business and the persistence to overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities” are the reasons the family company continues to thrive, she said.
Her grandparents, Lloyd and Dorothy Conger, started the business in 1955. Their three children then became part of the business, and in 1996, Gary and Bruce Conger bought the company from their parents. Gary Conger, Anika’s father, bought the company from his brother and is now the president and owner.