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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Climbing The Rungs at Lynn Ladder

by Shel Horowitz

For Alan Kline, the journey to the top was anything but a straight line. Though he worked in the family businesses-first a bowling alley and then the ladder company-since the age of 13, Kline was learning his management skills through such endeavors as building a large local organization of ham radio operators and waging a successful campaign-father's orders-to get his mother into the bowling hall of fame. Meanwhile, his father, less than 25 years his senior, was pushing Lynn Ladder and scaffolding to the $50 million range.

But when the father suddenly died last year, Kline was suddenly in the driver's seat. He inherited an unusual organization: vertically integrated (including manufacturing, wholesale, retail, and service), fiercely independent in its distributor arrangements-the company won't sell to mega-chains like Costco and Home Depot, preferring to work with independents. "My largest vendor is my largest competitor-and I private-label wooden ladders for them."

Now, he oversees 350 employees across four plants and five warehouses. Many of the managers were hired decades earlier, straight out of vocational high school, by his father.

At the funeral, the younger Kline found out a bit about what his father-always gruff and rarely openly supportive-meant to others. 1000 people turned out, and he discovered his dad was the one all the other children of CEOs came to for advice.

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