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What Are The Biggest Challenges in Taking Over a Family Business (Points of View)
Climbing the ladder takes on new meaning when your employer is your family. We spoke to two Vistage members working in family businesses — one who is just taking over and one who has been at the helm for a few years — about the unique leadership challenges they face as the next generation.
Corey Brown is president at Burger & Brown Engineering in Grandview, Missouri. After a nine-year succession plan, Brown will replace his father as CEO of the engineering-driven manufacturing firm in June 2023. Transparency with customers, vendors and associates has been critical to the Browns as they move forward with the leadership swap.
Braydan Shaw is CEO of Burns 1876, a Salina, Utah-based, sixth-generation Western retailer of custom saddles, belts, jewelry and cowboy hats. In 2020, the 43-year-old took over the company. Diversification has kept family harmony. Each member has a distinct area of focus, but they stay supportive of each other.
Q. How does your family’s history with the company play a role in how you lead?
For 20 years, my dad has created a culture of pride, integrity and awareness that is second to none. People don’t like change. They want to know they will have the same interactions with me. I am my own person, but my dad and I both exude the same core values. I have lofty goals ahead, but I intend to keep intact the company’s tradition and family atmosphere.
Being part of a 146-year-old family business that has survived countless disruptive events, including two pandemics, our leadership team often reflects on the past while looking forward. There aren’t many business decisions we face that the previous five generations haven’t tackled. I lean on the stories of my progenitors to provide inspiration and motivation.
Q. How would you describe the impact your generation of leadership has brought to the organization?
I’ve brought in new ideas and direction. Being younger and in the early part of my career, I am more willing to take risks. I’ve pushed the envelope a little bit with my dad to grow and diversify the business. So we’ve developed new areas of work that he might not have considered in the past.
We’ve enhanced our business structure. Our artisans typically follow the apprentice model, with information passing only from craftsperson to apprentice. Two years ago, we began documenting the process to expedite the training of new craftspeople as well as preserve the manufacturing of our traditional heirloom quality products.
Q. What are you doing to train and prepare the next generation? Why is that important?
Whether another family member takes over this business or not, someday there will be someone new. We encourage the group with us now to learn and evolve with us. The more people who can be part of our journey, the smoother any leadership transition will be in the future and the longer the company can continue to thrive.
We keep our kids active in the business, from building hat bands to working at trade shows. It’s important for the next generation to feel gratitude for the hard work of each generation before them. Working side by side with my grandparents and parents helped me to appreciate the family business. It’s the reason I wanted to join it and add my mark to its legacy.