Entrepreneurship often seems to run in the family, and many of our students and prospective students come from parents and families who have already demonstrated entrepreneurial success. Many of these students are pursuing new industries and careers, but some also find that their own goals and skills are a perfect match for the family trade.
There are many types of family businesses, and the term means different things to different people. We spoke with three of our alumni, who each pursued a path that took them into the family business and we asked them to comment on their experiences and the decisions and that led them there.
Chris Weekley (’07) is a Project Manager for David Weekley Homes, the nation’s third largest privately owned homebuilder. He oversees one of the company’s newest segments called Central Living, which focuses on developing homes in Houston’s urban infill locations. Although Chris did join the company that his father founded and runs, David Weekley Homes is a private corporation with more than 700 employees and has built more than 65,000 homes in 16 US cities. So although Chris works with his father, the firm is not run like a family business. Responsibility and seniority are earned, not awarded, and Chris began his career there as an entry-level builder.
Will Tippen (’08) is Chief Operating Officer of Salta Pipe Company, a firm his grandfather started in 1969 in Abilene, Texas. Salta Pipe applies a unique and patented approach that combats the corrosion caused by salt water and chemicals that move through the pipe. Though Will is officially in charge of operations and management, and oversees financing at the approximately 35-employee company, he’s also gets involved in purchasing and some sales, and even works the plant when it’s needed. As Will says, “In a family business, you focus on what needs to be done, regardless of your job title.”
Charlie Nettles (’11) works for Tex-Trude, a plastics manufacturing company based in Channelview, Texas and owned by his family. Founded in 1952, the company has approximately 175 employees and is one of the leading poly and PVC manufacturers in Texas and around the country. Charlie spends three-fourths of his time working in the accounting department and spends the remaining fourth of his time helping out with, and learning about, the other areas of Tex-Trude’s business.
On what the term “family business” means to them…
At a personal level, it really means a chance to work with my family. My grandfather is down the hall. My mom is in the office next to me. My dad and uncle are down the hall. I technically rank above my parents, which is kind of funny. I’ve gotten to see and appreciate what my grandfather has built from an entirely new perspective. And I’ve also gotten to see a different side of my grandfather, and learn from his experiences.
A family business extends far beyond the family. It encompasses every employee, vendor and customer. Many of our employees, vendors, and customers have known me since I was born, and it is the foundation of these relationships that ultimately defines a ‘family business.’
We actually keep things as far away from a family business situation as possible. There is no special treatment. No nepotism. We make a point to avoid even the perception that there might be. When we’re at work, I call and refer to my dad as David. And I’ve always had to meet the same requirements and expectations for employment and promotion as everyone else.
On going into business with family…
My experience at Acton made me open to the idea of working for my family. It was something I had never considered before attending Acton. After completing the Acton curriculum, specifically the Life of Meaning class, and looking at my goals, strengths, and weaknesses, I had a clearer picture of where I wanted to go in life and where I needed to start in order to get there.
The idea of working for David Weekley Homes was always a question in the back of my mind but it wasn’t a given. All through Acton I researched companies that I wanted to work for, and I interviewed at other companies. I struggled with the question of working for my father’s company a lot in our Life of Meaning class and discussed it with Steven Tomlinson. He asked me the right questions that led me down this path. They led me to have a serious sit down conversation with my dad about what it would look like if I did go to work for his company.
There are many appealing benefits to me… being able to be close to my family, enjoying the pace of life, sharing priorities, and the ability to have an impact at an early stage. While I was at Acton, I realized that working within my family business I’d be able to make a larger impact faster than in someone else’s business. There would be a greater level of trust right away. I’d have a seat at that table right away, rather than having to scrounge around to find a way to make a difference in another company. Beyond that, I know that whatever I do here impacts the livelihood of the rest of my extended family, even those who don’t work for Salta Pipe.
On the decision to work with family…
Ultimately, through the process at Acton I figured out that I wanted to be good at residential real estate. That meant being good at finding property, setting it up for success with design and planning, selling it, building it, and providing quality service to buyers over time. I had experience in the first two from my job before Acton, but was missing the last three. I knew that David Weekley Homes not only excelled at all three, but that it also offered one of the best real estate training programs in the country. It became clear that it was the right fit for my goals and the right choice for me.
I went in to Acton knowing that joining my grandfather’s business was one of my options. I always considered it an option, but I evaluated other career choices and refused to make up my mind until I finished Acton. About a month after graduation, in early June, I made my decision and I started a month later.
Towards the end of Acton, I began to lean away from commercial real estate, which was the direction I thought I was going, and started pursuing possible opportunities in the manufacturing world. It was not necessarily a decision to go work for the family company, but a decision to work in that industry. After some conversations with my dad about the company’s needs and my skills, we decided it was a good fit and the right time.
On choosing Acton…
Although I had not planned on working for the family company, I always knew that I would eventually like the opportunity to work for myself. I wasn’t looking for a traditional MBA because the skills of finance, accounting, and marketing were not what I was looking to focus on. I wanted to learn how to take an idea, turn that idea into a growing business, and turn that growing business into a legacy. Acton’s program provided that tool set and experience.
I’d reached a point where I’d spent three years in the workplace after college, but didn’t know if I wanted to stay in real estate, where I wanted to live, or what I wanted to do. Acton and the Life of Meaning class offered me the tools and a toolkit of skills to find that direction in my life and decide on my next steps.
I chose Acton because it was a program that scared me to death. Of all MBA programs I was considering, it presented me with the greatest challenge. I read the acceptance letter that Acton sent me and I was terrified. And I wanted it. I looked at the faculty and wanted to know what those guys know. I wanted to learn from people who had been on the ground floor of their businesses, rather than teaching theories out of a book.
On the impact on my career today…
The tools I learned at Acton come into play on a daily basis, the greatest of these being the case method process. I have been in countless meetings that provide no actual benefit because of the lack of direction and focus on the topic at hand. Being able to provide structure with a goal, a starting point, an open discussion building on points – both in agreement and disagreement – and a conclusion yields a much better use of everyone’s time.
I learned to ask the right questions. I historically can be impatient about results and responses. Acton gave me the discipline to shut up and listen as well. Asking the right question doesn’t suffice if you don’t actually pay attention to what you hear back.
Before Acton, I’d only worked in sales and never in manufacturing and operations. After going through the Ops class, I learned that I loved to see how things come together. Now I can see how to make that happen easier, faster, better. I wouldn’t have had that without Acton. I also used to focus mainly on the revenues of a business. A lot of people do that. But now I have a much broader perspective of an organization’s financial picture and how all numbers influence the others.
On considering a family business when enrolled at Acton…
To anyone considering Acton, who is also planning to work for their family business, I’d recommend that they spend a year working in the business before attending. Then when they go through the program, they’ll be able to apply their classroom experiences and all those lessons to their family’s business. They can take notes for that goal and then go back to those lessons after graduation and consider how they apply. I was familiar with Salta Pipe, but I didn’t know the business from the inside before entering in a leadership position. After you graduate from Acton, you’ll have some amazing tools at your disposal. But remember that the business you join has years of experience and success, with many people who have been a part of that. So go in and observe and learn from them about the business, rather than try to implement many changes out the gate. Sometimes experience trumps education, and it’s important to respect both.
Any Acton student needs to understand what they are trying to get out of the program. I went to better myself, determine where I wanted to take my career, and build up tools and skills that would help me get there. I wasn’t expecting to work for my father’s business. But for any students who decide they might want to work with family, they need to have a frank and honest discussion with the family members they may become involved with in business. You need that to develop a clear and defined idea of how it would work and understand what you are considering.
Many of the people surrounding you probably think that working for the family business is taking the ‘easy way out’ and others might understand that it is a hard decision and a large amount of responsibility to take on. It doesn’t matter what either thinks. Acton teaches you to think for yourself. It helps you determine where you want to go and how to get there.
More Questions? Let Us Know!
Do you have any other questions about getting an MBA before going into the family trade? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or feel free to contact us directly!
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