Keeping the family together

Author Keith Jennings
June 26, 2019 - 01:00am

The opportunity to work for a successful family business can be rewarding, and lots of machine shops are great examples. Being in this industry has introduced me to a variety of family-owned operations that are impressive and even cool. What a country.

Such success also comes with challenges and disagreements when dealing with sensitive issues. Occasionally, relationships are tested. Family members share interests and ownership. These intertwined lives result in unique situations. For better or worse, company business impacts lives at home and work, and it’s not for everyone.

When issues occur among normal co-workers, they are not related, don’t live together and don’t have to see each other after work. But family is different, and staying together through thick and thin is a priority.

My family can relate to all this as we’ve been working together for years. First, it was my parents for a long time. Then, I came along in 1992, followed by my brothers in 2008. Our parents eventually retired but remain involved and help as needed. In all our working history together and throughout many ups and downs, the biggest test of the family work bond was encountered during our most recent downturn of 2015 to 2018. Several factors made this test more difficult, including a market downturn that was the worst in years and the fact that we were now all working at the family business and dependent on it for income. In previous years, it was only my parents, then later me as well. Until my brothers were with us, their incomes and livelihoods didn’t totally depend on the family shop. They were in school or had other jobs.

Fast forward to 2015 with all of us working together, all with growing families of our own and reliant on the family shop for everything. Combine that with our worst market crash in 25 years, and you have a dicey situation, a much different set of circumstances. As president and the oldest member of my generation, it was my responsibility to navigate the company through this tough period, as well as to ensure that my family members had incomes, insurance and employment. It was a stressful era to say the least. We spent time together outside work anyway, but our conversations about business and survival were frequent, often draining and stressful and occasionally argumentative. When business is great and a company is profitable, it’s much easier to work together and get along. It’s when conditions are down that a family can be pushed to its limit.

Throughout it all, we stuck it out and remained strongly intact. I’ve pondered why we made it through compared with others who haven’t. I believe we succeeded for a few reasons that perhaps could help other family shops. First, we constantly communicated, exchanged ideas and kept each other informed about conditions. We shared the pain of cuts and loss of income. We all pitched in and took on new duties, covering for laid-off employees. Our parents became more involved again, using their experience to advise and help deal with sensitive issues involving money and income. The bottom line was that we valued our family relationships and knew we had to stick together.

It wasn’t easy, but incredibly valuable lessons in business and life resulted. We remain a tight family and still hang out. It’s a wonderful thing.



Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.