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From Shirtsleeves to Success

BY DEE THOMPSON

The expression “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” is often used to describe the life of a family business. What that means is that family businesses often fail within three generations. It happens because successive generations are not interested in continuing the business, and/or taking too much money from the business, or sometimes they simply cannot manage the business effectively.

Successful family businesses are often acquired by a larger company. Family-owned Mayfield Dairy, whose 100-year history was published by The Storyline Group in 2012, was acquired by Dean Foods in 1990. The business continued to be managed by fourth-generation family members until 2013, when both Scottie Mayfield and his cousin Rob Mayfield retired. In 1994, Storyline’s founder, Phillip Bellury, wrote the history of the Brock Candy Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was founded in 1906. Brock Candy successfully survived beyond three generations before it was acquired by Brach’s Candy in Ohio in 1995.

For Meghan Juday, a fourth-generation descendant of the founder of IDEAL Industries, the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” axiom has not proven true. IDEAL was founded in 1916 by her great-grandfather, J. Walter Becker, as the IDEAL Commutator Dresser Company. As a family business consultant, Meghan is all too aware of the “shirtsleeves” pitfall.

“Too often, family-owned businesses don’t have great reputations as good businesspeople or good employers. They will fight in the office or make decisions that support the family’s best interests rather than the best interests of the business.”

Unlike most family-owned businesses, IDEAL has managed to grow the business with each successive generation, and today it is a thriving international corporation with a very bright future.

Meghan, who serves as Family Council Chair and Corporate Director at IDEAL and last year was named director of Saint Joseph’s University’s Initiative for Family Business and Entrepreneurship, has studied what makes a family business successful. She explains what makes IDEAL different:

“We’ve always treated the company, as my grandfather always put it, as ‘the goose that lays golden eggs, not the golden goose.’ So that means re-investing and cultivating this asset to give us small dividends, and re-investing most or all of the money back into the business. I think it’s those stewardship capabilities and long-range perspective that have enabled us to get where we are today and keep us growing over time.”

 

Meghan has two sons, and many of her cousins have children. There is a concerted effort to get the fifth generation comfortable with the business and willing to sustain it. In addition to yearly meetings of the entire extended family, they have “family camp” every summer for the “G-5’s” as they are known. Cousins from all over the USA get to know each other better, spend time outside, and learn from the adults about the business.

Meghan has no worries about her own children, who are not even teenagers yet. “My kids have already decided which jobs they want to have in the family business when they get older. I think that’s great. I want them to think about that. I’m not going to hold them to it, but the fact that it’s the top of their consciousness I think is great. My oldest son Elliot wants my job, and Walter wants Dave’s job. We got it pretty much covered.”

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