Family Businesses: ‘Your Name is On It!’

Cal Miller-Stevens, left, and her niece Capri Frank pose for a photo inside the store at Miller Foods, Inc., a fourth-generation, family owned and operated food business located in Avon, Conn. Behind them is a photo taken in the early 1960s, in the same location. From left is family matriarch Margaret "Oma" Miller and her two daughters, Sandi Trudeau (Frank's mother) and Miller-Stevens. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)
Cal Miller-Stevens, left, and her niece Capri Frank pose for a photo inside the store at Miller Foods, Inc., a fourth-generation, family owned and operated food business located in Avon, Conn. Behind them is a photo taken in the early 1960s, in the same location. From left is family matriarch Margaret “Oma” Miller and her two daughters, Sandi Trudeau (Frank’s mother) and Miller-Stevens. (Nathan Oldham / UConn School of Business)

UConn Revamps Family Business Program, Offers Bootcamp, Summer Internship Program to Help Multi-Generational Companies Thrive

Ask Julie Paine-Miller, vice president of Paine’s Inc. Recycling and Rubbish Removal, what it is like to be employed in a family-owned business, and she will share that some of her fondest childhood memories involve riding in her family’s garbage trucks.

“I have a deep-seated love for trash!,” Paine-Miller said with a laugh. “I have memories of being around the trucks from the time I was a little girl.”

She started working at the bottom rung of the East Granby company, as all family members do, answering customer complaints. Founded in 1929, today Paine’s has its fourth-generation of family leaders, employs more than 70 people, and serves 45,000 customers in Greater Hartford and the Northwest Corner.

“There is something unique about working in your family’s business. You have the motivation and inner drive to be better than just good,” Paine said. “Your name is on the business and your reputation is tied to it.”

Connecticut Has Large Number of Family Businesses

Almost one quarter of all Connecticut businesses are family owned, according to the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. Recognizing that family businesses are a vital part of Connecticut’s economy, coupled with the unique issues that their leaders experience, the UConn School of Business revamped and re-introduced its Family Business program a year ago.

“Family businesses have all the challenges and opportunities of traditional businesses, but with the addition of doing it with the same people you celebrate Thanksgiving with,” said Robin Bienemann, entrepreneur-in-residence and program director.

The program helps hundreds of businesses a month, either with educational courses, networking opportunities, a summer internship program, or referrals to experts who can assist with a specific task. In the last year, the program added an undergraduate course in family business, a student summer internship program, and executive education “basecamp” classes that allow participants to develop greater knowledge of everything from sales strategies to family dynamics.

Family businesses are abundant in Connecticut and a significant contributor both to the economy and employment, said School of Business Dean John A. Elliott. Whether they are household names, like the 350-employee Bigelow Tea Co., or smaller mom-and-pops that serve giants like United Technologies, Electric Boat, or Stanley Black & Decker, family businesses touch all industries, he said. Family businesses generate more than 50 percent of the U.S. gross national product in 2013, according to a Forbes article.

The UConn Family Business program now serves a diverse range of businesses, from real estate to insurance, food products to construction. The companies are typically small- to medium-sized, and range from first- to fourth-generation family ownership.

“While its easy for the corporate giants of the world to pack up and move elsewhere, family businesses just don’t do that,” Bienemann said. “They are much more likely to stay in Connecticut because their business has been here for generations. It is our goal to keep them here, keep them strong, and help them over the obstacles that they encounter.”

While several universities offer family business consulting, UConn took a different approach, said Professor Lucy Gilson, head of the management department. The university saw an opportunity to offer executive education to the family business owners, while simultaneously preparing undergraduates for internships, and potentially jobs, within family businesses. “The UConn family business collaboration allows experts in fields as diverse as family studies and finance to all work together,” Gilson said.

Changing Leadership Styles: ‘It Would Make His Head Spin’

One of the big sources of tension in family businesses is passing the torch to the next generation. Families can be especially reticent to change the way things are done and to trust a new generation with the company they’ve worked so hard to build, Bienemann said.

Ryan Keating is vice president of the family-owned Keating Agency Insurance in West Hartford, which his late grandfather, Mike Keating Sr., started 50 years ago. A retired Korean War veteran, the founder was very disciplined. He appreciated personal contact, and hated email.

“If my grandfather saw my approach, it would probably make his head spin,” Ryan Keating said. “But my father [Mike Keating Jr.] understands the need to merge old-fashioned traditions, such as strong relationships, with new technology. In business, you don’t call 100 people a day anymore. So we’ve worked to implement technology, but maintain traditional expectations. My Dad sees this and gives me the freedom to do what seems right.”

Ryan Keating has attended the UConn Family Business Bootcamp and found the segment on financing very helpful. He also developed a new network of colleagues.

“I enjoy networking with others in the same situation, people who are like-minded, with similar growth plans and pains,” Keating said.

“I think it’s great that UConn is realizing the need and opportunity to support family business. As we grow, it’s great to know we have support in the state,” Keating said. “I think it is kind of appropriate, given that UConn was started by two brothers who donated the land from their family farm to benefit the state!”

Simsbury Bank has been a key sponsor of the program. Other resources have included UConn’s Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, the UConn Law Clinic and the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC) as well as other schools and colleges at UConn. Family Business members can connect with experts from accountants to social media advisers and finance to operations strategists. “Our aim is to be their place to turn, their safety net,” Bienemann said.

In a Family Business, You Have to Know Every Facet

Miller Foods, Inc. is a family-owned and operated company that has been producing top-quality poultry products and unique gourmet foods for more than 50 years.

Carolyn “Auntie Cal” Miller-Stevens can remember when thousands of turkeys roamed the family property on Arch Road in Avon. Today the company has branched out, adding e-commerce and a line of dog food and treats to its business menu.

“Our business, like every business, is changing and evolving,” said Capri Frank, a UConn alumna, whose grandparents founded the business. “What’s unique about a family business is that you have to know everything about it.”

Today one of her key roles, she said, is to bridge the gap between generations, with employees who range in age from their 30s to their 70s.

While Miller Foods has welcomed its fourth generation of business leaders, Frank said she knows they are the exception. Fewer than 5 percent of all family businesses make it to the third generation, and that’s an unfortunate statistic, she said.

Frank, and Kim Sirois Pita, founder of the marketing and public relations firm Pita Peaces, were instrumental in creating UConn’s basecamp program, recognizing that a broad knowledge base is crucial for a family business to thrive.

“What links us together is a shared commitment to making our companies thrive, and a passion for business in Connecticut,” Frank said. “We want to strengthen the Connecticut economy through our connections.”

Frank said the program has offered resources from state grants to banking. Through the Family Business program, she can share the things she’s learned as well as the lessons she missed, she said.

“To have a fourth generation involved in our business is exciting, but they’ll need support. These are challenging times for businesses,” Frank said. “But I look forward to what they will add to help advance the business forward. It’s a legacy.”

Frank noted that her family business was led by strong women and they were her role models. “We have primarily been a woman-owned business and there’s some pride in that. They’ve worked hard, been great examples for other women. We want to perpetuate that.”

Miller-Stevens said family businesses have to be future thinking but maintain the business values. “In family business, you have to use that filter,” she said. “I think that respect is one of the cornerstones of a successful family business.”

Family Asks: ‘What’s Our Mission? What’s Our Legacy?’

When Kevin Quiros‘ father started HFM Wealth Management Inc. of Hartford in 1989, it was a particularly proud event for the Quiros family. His father, an immigrant from Columbia, had come to this country as a young boy. To own his own business, in his new homeland, was his dream.

“He came here with nothing and eventually owned a business in the United States, and he’s very proud of that,” said Quiros, a wealth manager, who earned his MBA from UConn in 2004. “It keeps everyone humble. He reminds family that it could all disappear quickly if the business doesn’t thrive and remain successful.”

The company is dedicated to serving families and educating people on estate and inheritance planning. “We start with ‘What’s family all about? What’s our mission? What’s our legacy?’ They all go together,” the younger Quiros said.

At times, the generations have disagreed on business tactics, but never on the fundamental goal of the company.

“Unlike some businesses where the emphasis is on youth, in investment it is important to have people who have been here a long time, have white hair, and can give perspective on market cycles,” he said. “Owning a business for a long time adds a great deal to the business.”

He said there is always a natural friction in family businesses, but good relationships can overcome it.

“I’ve heard of family businesses where Generation 2 has no voice and the leadership won’t give up control. That’s not good for business,” he said. “My dad and I sometimes disagree, but when we do, there is no ego involved. We are focused on what’s good for business, for our clients, for our employees. The business has to do well and you sometimes have to separate the family pieces. It takes good, open and honest communication between generations and everyone has to be respectful of others’ opinions. It’s something you have to work at, like a marriage. You have to make it work. And if there’s a problem, you have to talk about it.”

“A lot of family businesses in the state are driving the economy. I want the UConn School of Business to be our base, our voice, a place where we can collaborate on our experiences, challenges, the things we’ve done well and didn’t do right,” he said. “This is a resource to extend the reach, and build the economy locally. I’m excited about it.”

“With a family business, you’re asking yourself, ‘What does the next 50 years look like?’ You have to look that far out. You’re looking at the business longevity, not just the bottom line,” Quiros said.

Also in the back of his mind is the idea that perhaps his young daughters, ages 7 and 8, might want to enter the family’s financial business later in their lives. He hopes UConn continues a strong program to mentor all students, but especially those who might take the reins of family businesses in the next generation.

“After all, isn’t that what a great college does—prepares the next generation of business owners?,” he asked.

Student writer Janine Coppola contributed to this article.