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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

When Children Grow Up to Run the Business

Four Family Business Center member CEO with something unique in common took the stage at the Family Business Center to discuss taking over the reins. All four were children of the founders who were now running their company.

Held at the Log Cabin March 2, the panel featured-in order of ascension to the throne-Larry Grenier, head of The Greniers since 1991; Jeff Glaze, running Decorated Products since 1995, Cindy Johnson, in charge at Nevada Bob's of West Springfield, in 1996, and Peter Haas, who took over Hillside Plastics only in November 1998.

For Jeff Glaze, the business framed his memories of childhood: "I rode my tricycle up and down the aisles." Confident in his abilities, Glaze chose to work directly in the family firm, without a stint elsewhere first, in 1979. And what an introduction he had! "The general manager quit two weeks later, and I was on the hot seat." Glaze oversaw significant growth. when he arrived, there were only 25 employees; now there are 60 (down from about 100 after an acquisition in 1991). But being general manager caused constant conflict with his father about who was really in charge. He finally told his father, "If I'm not competent, bring in someone else-and if I am competent, let me run it." and since taking the helm, Jeff has instituted a more cooperative, planning-oriented management style, shepherded through ISO 9000 certification, and "become a world class vendor to our customers."

Peter Haas also grew up in the business, working full-time since 1980. He's done just about everything, from sweeping floors to operating machines, sales, scheduling, and shipping. In his case, working with five other family members, there was no clear successor. Hillside's outside board recommended Peter, and then-president Dick Haas accepted the recommendation.

Cindy Johnson didn't want to be part of the business at first. "Seeing what it did to my parents, I had no desire." But when her interest changed, she almost had to force her way into Nevada Bob's; her father was hoping his son would succeed him. In fact, even though she was working in the store, her father tried to sell the business, without consulting her. When the deal fell through, "I did a business plan to show my father I was serious. My father had never done one." Like Glaze, she has instituted a much more cooperative management approach, and it's worked out well for her parents and her brother. "There are four people happier today than five years ago."

Larry Grenier was also involved early on. In the evening, "I went back with my dad to develop film. He lifted me up and put me on the shelf. All I could see was 30 gallons of film developer!" The younger Grenier is still close with his parents and siblings, but evolved the firm from a general practice to specialists.

For business owners considering succession plans, all four young CEOs say keep the communication going! Bring your children in by providing information, discussing your plans, and letting go when the time comes. And advice to the new generation? Find the support structures you need. Of course, if, like Cindy Johnson, your business is other people's fun, you have an advantage in getting information from your lawyer, accountant, and banker. "If I can save up my questions till spring, I can call them up to play a round of golf."

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