Cutting Tool Engineering
March 2013 / Volume 65 / Issue 3

Dealing with the unexpected

By Keith Jennings

My recent past has, unfortunately, included the passing away of several acquaintances, one only 38 years old. I also read an obituary in the local paper about a machinist we formerly employed, a man only in his 50s.

In addition, an employee’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, completely changing his priorities. Around this same time, my youngest brother had a medical scare, and my mother fell in her backyard and broke a shoulder, requiring a 4-week recovery and making it almost impossible for her to take care of her 90-year-old mother.

These events have brought a sobering degree of reality into my life. That is, the realization that time marches on for everyone and, eventually, something unexpected will impact our lives and our businesses.

Our machine shop is family-owned and -operated, the shareholders being the two parents and three brothers. Thankfully, our parents have remained healthy and active, even though officially retired, and have been able to teach us about the financial and legal complexities involved in operating such a business. It probably comes as no surprise that it’s not getting any easier to transition the ownership of a manufacturing company and assume the required responsibilities. Actually, it’s a minefield I’m still learning to manage after 3 years.

Historically, my mother was mostly responsible for things like loan paperwork, taxes and insurance policies, while my dad ensured the company was producing great parts. This meant many time-consuming duties for my mother outside of the normal work schedule: interpreting federal and state financial requirements, completing personal financial statements for banks, and meeting with insurance agents and accountants.

As my wife and I have become more involved in the business, the reality of running an operation with a few million dollars in annual sales has set in. Slowly but surely, we’re taking over the financial duties and discovering the exhausting and never-ending cycle of legal minutia. My parents did a good job of handling the financial responsibilities and shielding us from the related stress, but, understandably, they’re tired of this drill and ready to transfer responsibility to the next generation.

That scenario brings me back to my original point about surviving the unexpected. If you’re not prepared, these are events that can make your life incredibly complicated. What would happen if someone important at your company suddenly passed away or was incapable of working? If you’re a family business, do you have a contingency plan in the event of a loss of a family member or—worse—the loss of more than one?

Previously, these possibilities seemed too distant for me to stress over. But now, it’ll be me, my wife and my brothers spilling our personal information to financial institutions, signing legal contracts and personal guarantees, negotiating deals, trying to collect from deadbeat accounts, filling out tax returns and, generally, protecting our assets from the government, sharks and thieves. Over time, it’s become clear that I need the other family members to help navigate it all.

Because so many machine shops are small or family-owned, survival of the business is dependent on your ability to deal with unexpected emergencies. The roles for me and my brothers will continue to evolve as we become the glue that holds it all together and, hopefully, our parents can enjoy their retirement without worrying about the business. We’ll have to take the baton of life and relieve them of that hassle—they certainly deserve it.

Lately, I’ve seen the realities of unexpected events impact companies, lives and families. This has brought into focus the reality that any of us could be next. Time is short—make the most of it! CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at
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