Boston Chauffeur Driven Show
Thursday, June 20, 2019

BY WAYNE BLANCHARD

Being born and raised in the industry sounds simple. As soon as you’re old enough, you just slide into an upper management position at your parents’ company and sit back and collect the paychecks. Once your parents decide to retire, you just take the helm, and watch the profits come in. Hold it, not so fast! The truth is, when you enter into the industry after your parents cut a path and established a company before you, it can be a daunting challenge. You’re faced with their expectations, especially if their financial success is to hitched to yours. Long-term employees may not be trusting of you until you prove that you’re working as hard as they are. There may be animosity. On the flip side, there’s also the opportunity to work closely with your family and to bring new ideas to the table that never would have been possible before. There’s also the thrill of working with people you grew up with—family and employees—and helping the company flourish into the next decade and beyond.

Understanding the parent-child dynamic in a family-owned business affects anyone, from the people involved and those working in the company to their customers and the affiliates that the company works with. We talked to 11 next-generation operators who tell us what it’s really like to grow up in the business, struggle to find their leadership roles, and balance their family and work roles.

cd-1213-blanchard-campbell-new-gen Michael Campbell Michael Campbell . 34
CEO of Grace Limousine in Manchester, N.H.
Years at Company: 5
Starting Position: Business development, but worked 4 other positions prior to college
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 50

CD: What was the greatest challenge you faced working for your parent?
MC: In 2007, my father, Ian Campbell, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I was called back as part of a succession plan. The greatest challenge was to bring my vision into Grace, yet still honor my father’s vision. Those were some very large and beloved shoes I had to fill.

CD: What is the best and worst part about working with family?
MC: I have siblings who work at Grace as well. My older brother Geoff is our fleet manager, and when we disagree on a course of action, we can’t just wrestle it out as we did when we were kids—which works out better for me as Geoff is freaking huge! All of our family members, however, were instilled with the same work ethic, and it’s always nice to know you can count on everyone to pull together to get any given task done no matter what the personal cost. I grew up in an immediate family of nine and we’ve always been a very tight-knit group. Although our family business is just another part of our family dynamic, we try very hard to leave work behind when we get together.

CD: Have you had any ideas or changes you convinced your family to try that really flopped?
MC: Most definitely! Back in 2008 or 2009, there was a corporate push for a cheaper alternative to the Town Car, as well as a call for “green” vehicles. I went out and purchased two hybrid vehicles. They turned out to be horrible to chauffeur, terrible to ride in, and expensive to repair/maintain, all with a bad resale value. It was the worst idea ever for us.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
MC: Be sure they get experience working outside of the industry before you bring them in to learn the company. The experience will be valuable.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
MC: It is very important to discuss any succession plan prior to joining. There needs to be a written plan and everyone needs to understand it completely. You also need to think about more than just today! Think about the future, where you envision the company going, and how to get there. Just because it is your parents’ company doesn’t mean you don’t do your due diligence.

cd-1213-blanchard-salinger-long-new-gen Tracy Salinger-Long Tracy Salinger-Long . 40
General Manager of Unique Limousine in Harrisburg, Pa.
Years at Company: 22
Starting Position: “Grunt” doing a little bit of everything for the small company
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 57

CD: What was the greatest challenge you faced working for your parents?
TSL: There’s no clear set of rules or a solid job description to follow. It seems that everything is always fluid, which can make things difficult. What’s worse, if I had a bad day, I really don’t want to, for example, go out to dinner with my parents for fear of continuing that bad day. In a situation like that, you just want to close the day and move on.

CD: Do you feel that you are under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
TSL: Always more! Working for a parent, I tend to have the complex that no matter what I do, it will never be good enough. Plus, when you’re the “child of,” you’re in a tough spot. You’re not the owner, and you’re not “just” an employee. Sometimes it can make you feel like you’re an island of one. It can be difficult, but that’s just the nature of the beast.

CD: What’s the best part of working with family?
TSL: That’s an easy one, the love of your family! A family environment can be nurturing, caring, crazy, and fun, or sometimes it can make you want to pull your hair out. But that love is always there.

CD: How did your family get past work to maintain the family relationship outside the office?
TSL: It’s all one big ball, so there’s not really any separation. Over the years, we’ve tried to create separation, but it gets very unnatural. Sometimes, after-hours is the best time to get work done because of a more relaxed atmosphere of not being under the pressure of the daily grind. I’m always on call, so I don’t really get the opportunity to get out of work mode. We just do the best we can do. Sometimes that means having to get up in the middle of Christmas dinner to work with a client. However, they’re not calling because it’s fun. They’re usually away from their families as well, and we always have to be mindful and respectful of that.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
TSL: From the get go, be clear about home and work. When it’s all jumbled together, it’s much harder on your child. Let them know that if you have a bad day at work, it doesn’t have to mean it’s going to be a bad night at home too! Sometimes you just have to “close the door” and go home. Also, find their strengths and work with them. My strength is that I’m a people person, but my weakness is I’m not a numbers person. For a few years I had to do bookkeeping, and it ended up costing my father money to straighten it all out.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
TSL: Your parents are human. It’s easy to get upset with them when you feel they’ve done something wrong, but they’re learning just like you are. Life is a journey of learning, especially in a family business. Just remember, you’re never too old to give your mom and dad a kiss goodnight when you leave for the day.

cd-1213-blanchard-levine-new-gen Matthew Levine Matthew Levine . 33
Vice President of Hy’s Limousine Worldwide in New Haven, Conn.
Years at Company: 4
Starting Position: Reservations, later dispatch and operations
Primary Market: Corporate, Funeral
Fleet Size: 105

CD: Did your first positions with the company help you in your current role?
ML: Yes, knowing these things are a must!

CD: What was the greatest challenge you faced working for your parents?
ML: You always think that working for family would be fantastic, but unfortunately everyone doesn’t always agree on things. To get past it, you have to learn to communicate and compromise. If you have arguments within the company walls, you have to be able to separate work from family/personal life. Don’t let what happens at work affect your relationships at home.

CD: How did your family manage to get past work life to maintain family life?
ML: It actually took a family crisis to really open our eyes to life outside the office. We now realize that being healthy and happy is the top priority. Of course, it’s very difficult to separate work and family life, so I try very hard not to discuss work outside the office, period!

CD: Being at the forefront of a new technology era, what was it like getting your family to embrace the change?
ML: It was difficult, but I believe that the only way to convince people to change certain aspects of business is to implement it and let them see and judge the level of success. Trial and error are, unfortunately, a big part of change. However, once everyone saw the benefits of the new technologies, they embraced it.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
ML: Be sure to work somewhere else prior to entering your family business. Receiving experience and knowledge outside is vital. This will help you become a more effective part of the company.

cd-1213-blanchard-thornton-new-gen Melissa Thornton Melissa Thornton . 39
CEO of LSW Chauffeured Transportation in White Plains, N.Y.
Years at Company: 5
Starting Position: Officially entered as COO, but worked every position in company during high school and college
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 30


CD: Did working your way up in the company help you in preparing for your current role?
MT: Without question! By working various roles, I’ve gained firsthand knowledge of what each job entails and a greater understanding of specific skills needed for the success in each position. I also believe it gave me greater credibility with the staff; they know I understand the challenges they face on a daily basis.

CD: When you re-entered the company as COO, what was the reaction of the staff?
MT: My return to the company in 2008 was met with a lot of uncertainty and speculation. It wasn’t exactly a particularly positive experience for me. There were many employees who had been with the company for a long time who were used to doing things one way and weren’t open to change.

CD: What was the greatest challenge of working for family?
MT: My greatest challenge came in trying to change the way we thought about our business. Coming from corporate America, I felt it was important to operate our business like a corporation rather than a mom-and-pop shop. During my mom’s tenure, she ran the business her way, and we have had our moments over the years where we didn’t agree about how the company should be run, but she knows that it’s my legacy now. Either way, in the end, she’s still my mom and I won’t let anything get in the way of that.

CD: When you first started, how did your family react to any ideas you had?
MT: My mom and I are 40 years apart and see the world very differently from each other. In the beginning, it was difficult to convince her to change things. Over time, she learned to trust me more and gave me the room to grow.

CD: Did working with your mother change your family life?
MT: Yes. In fact, my relationship with my mother has grown immensely as a result. We’ve been through so much together as both mother and daughter as well as business partners that it’s only made our bond tighter. As kid I never knew or appreciated how much work it takes for a woman to run a business in a male-dominated industry.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
MT: Encourage your children to start from the bottom and learn every aspect of the business. It’s also important to give your children room to learn and grow from their experiences. Guide them where needed, but also be aware they’re going to make their own mistakes. It’s very important for the parent to communicate the roles and responsibilities the child will have as owner.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
MT: I would start by talking less and listening a lot more. It’s important to remember that your parents have the experience and that is valuable even if they do things differently than you would. Remember, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. Learn by them and move on! Having parents as business partners (or employers) isn’t easy, but they’re your biggest supporters and assets.

cd-1213-blanchard-mazzarella-new-gen Anthony Mazzerella Anthony Mazzerella . 36
General Manager of American Limousine Service in Cleveland, Ohio
Years at Company: 18
Starting Position: Vehicle maintenance as a teenager, but also washing cars, sales, ­driving, dispatching, etc.
Primary Market: Corporate, Funeral
Fleet Size: 82

CD: How did working in the company at such a young age and in various positions help you?
AM: I can’t imagine managing the entire operation without the lifetime of experience and knowledge that I was fortunate to receive. I do believe that my father did the right thing by having me start at the bottom and rise through the ranks. This also helped to earn the respect of my co-workers.

CD: Do you feel that you are under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
AM: I was always held to higher standards by my elders, and was usually assigned to the service that the other chauffeurs complained about to discourage the grumblings of nepotism.

CD: When you first started, how did your family react to any ideas you had?
AM: At first, they reacted with disregard because of my youth and inexperience. However, with a few miles behind the wheel, my ideas began to get recognition.

CD: Did working for family change your family life?
AM: Yes. I truly value the time I got to spend with my father in my adult life. By working side by side with him, I learned so much from him about the industry as well as how much of an integral person he was to me. I am looking forward to passing that wisdom down to my children.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
AM: Have your children gain experience from other industries before entering the family business. This is a great opportunity to bring new ideas and experiences to the table.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
AM: Be very humble. Realize that you’re going to be held to different standards by both your family as well as other employees. Be flexible and willing to help out with all levels of the service. Above all, remember you will have to make sacrifices for the business.

cd-1213-blanchard-mckeon-new-gen Stephanie McKeon Stephanie McKeon . 26
Affiliate/Operations Manager of Joshua’s Limousine Service in Gales Ferry, Conn.
Years at Company: 8
Starting Position: Reservations/dispatch, but also HR and software analysis
Primary Market: Retail
Fleet Size: 25


CD: Did you feel like you were under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
SM: I certainly did feel like more eyes were on me. Returning to the company as the daughter-in-law definitely put me under the spotlight!

CD: What was the most difficult part of working for family?
SM: Feelings can get in the way of doing business. Your business life can get way too personal at times. When you work together 24/7, sometimes you need a break from immediate family. At times, work can carry over to family conversations or behaviors, which can affect moods and attitudes.

CD: What’s the best part of working for family? SM: Other than the occasional free rides, I’d say it’s the whole idea of togetherness. If we succeed, we succeed together. Through thick and thin, through the good and the hardships—although we may not always see eye to eye, when we cross the finish line, we do it together.

CD: How difficult is it getting out of work mode when you’re around family?
SM: According to my husband, I still need to work harder to get out of work mode. When you’re dealing with 101 things on your mind and it is working 100 mph, it really is difficult to just leave everything at the office. My husband says, “When you’re at work, you’re the boss, but when you’re at home, you know who the boss is.” I have to laugh because he actually believes that. Seriously though, I am so focused on work that I do find myself forgetting that I have a husband and children at home who are lacking my 100 percent attention.

CD: How did your family get past work to maintain the family relationship outside of work?
SM: Sometimes the simplest things in life can become the most difficult. Communication is the key. As a family, we’ve been working very hard on it. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve started and are improving all along the way.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their child on board their company?
SM: My advice is to define all of the boundaries. Your children should know when it is appropriate to be viewed as or speak as your child and when it’s appropriate as an employee.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
SM: Working for your parents is an awesome feeling. You get to personally admire their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Learn all you can from them and take advantage of the time you have with them. Gain all the knowledge and experience you can that’s not available to operators who are not a part of a family business. But also remember, at the end of the day, you’re a family before you’re a business.

cd-1213-blanchard-bacher-new-gen Danny Bacher Danny Bacher . 29
CEO of Topper Worldwide in Atlanta, Ga.
Years at Company: 7
Starting Position: Washing cars in high school; later, every aspect of the business
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 32

CD: What was the greatest challenge working for a parent?
DB: It is very difficult balancing life between family and business. It took us time to learn the boundaries of respect with each other. It’s very easy to treat a family member differently than you would another employee—both good and bad. In the office, you have employees who watch your every move, so you have to be cognizant of that when you have disagreements or discussions with family members. You must retain a level of professionalism at all times regardless of what’s going on.

CD: What’s the greatest part of working with family?
DB: I love having my father’s success directly tied to my own. There’s a lot of pressure in that, but I know the bigger I grow the business, the more money I make AND my dad makes. My brother also works for the company, so seeing them on a daily basis is another great benefit.

CD: How do you leave work at the office when spending time with family?
DB: My mom forces us to stop talking about work at family functions. She will end the conversation immediately after it begins. Every family should have someone who will take the initiative to keep work from dominating your together time. Recreation time needs to remain just that.

CD: Have you ever made a decision that was a total flop?
DB: A few years ago, we had outgrown our industry software, and I made the decision to switch to another provider. The software chosen was a complete nightmare, and within a year we found another provider that we are now content with. I still hear about how bad that software was; my father directly pins that one on me.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
DB: You have to find the balance between guiding your child and pushing them to do things the way you want. There’s a reason the next generation gets involved with businesses, and that’s to bring new and fresh ideas. We need space to allow these ideas to flourish, but not so much space that we are allowed to bet the farm.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
DB: Assuming the business is already well established, you need to have a compensation plan already laid out. In my opinion, money is the number one source of disagreement in family businesses. You need to iron out these details early on to set the proper foundation for a long, healthy, and successful business relationship with your family members.

cd-1213-blanchard-stein-brandan-new-gen Brandan Stein Brandan Stein . 33
COO of Exclusive Sedan Service in North Hollywood, Calif.
Years at Company: 14
Starting Position: Washing cars, then ­reservations/dispatch and accounts ­payable/receivable
Primary Market: Corporate, Studio
Fleet Size: 31

CD: When you entered the company, what was the reaction of the staff? Was it positive, negative, welcoming, skeptical?
BS: Wow! I could write a book on this subject. I’d have to say that it was all of the above. I was welcomed by everyone, but I also faced a lot of skepticism. On numerous occasions, I was compared to my dad.

CD: What was the greatest challenge of working for a parent?
BS: Learning the business from the ground up was difficult, but proving myself was the greatest of all. Many times I was compared to my dad; proving that I had a lot to offer while still being my own person was a challenge.

CD: Did you feel like you were under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
BS: More. I felt this most when I was responsible for making decisions concerning staff members who were not performing.

CD: What are the best and worst parts of working for family?
BS: Proving myself to them and earning their trust is the worst. The best part, however, is the personal relationship I have with my parents, which has only strengthened due to the amount of time I get to spend with them.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
BS: Listen! This is very different than agreeing with someone, so don’t be confused. My dad didn’t always agree with me, but he always heard me out and listened to what I had to say.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
BS: This again comes back to listening. Your parents have the experience, knowledge, dedication, and discipline that they’re willing to share with you, but only if you have the patience to listen to what they have to say. Also remember that hard work and research both pay off in bulk.

cd-1213-blanchard-amato-new-gen Joel Amato Joel Amato . 28
Vice President of Operations of Gateway Global in San Francisco, Calif.
Years at Company: 10
Starting Position: Detailer, but worked in ­every department
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 60+

CD: Did you feel like you were under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
JA: Much more scrutiny. Mainly because I came in and quickly began to make changes.

CD: What was the greatest challenge of working for a parent?
JA: It was spending time with my father without getting caught up in “office talk.” Work seems to always find its way into conversation, but there are times when I just want to spend quality time together and focus on what we are doing outside of work.

CD: When you first started, how did your parents react to any ideas you had?
JA: They were open to hearing them, but always pushed back with the thought that they knew best as they had more experience. It has become less of a challenge to bring on change, but I still have to do a full “pitch” for anything major.

CD: What has it been like to get your parents to embrace new technologies and ideas?
JA: The issue hasn’t been getting them to embrace it, but rather getting them to fully understand them. Sometimes, especially for those from an older generation, newer technologies are quite overwhelming to learn.

CD: What advice would you give to an operator who is considering bringing their children on board?
JA: Don’t force your kid to become part of the company. Let them make the decision if that’s the career they truly want.
CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
JA: The most important thing is to work hard! Don’t expect anything to be given to you just because it’s your parents’ company. Work to gain respect, don’t demand it.

cd-1213-blanchard-bhatti-new-gen Wasif Bhatti Wasif Bhatti . 31
General Manager of Limo Corp Worldwide in Chicago, Ill.
Years at Company: 11
Starting Position: Reservations agent and all of the key ­operational functions
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 43

CD: When you entered the company, what kind of reaction did the existing staff have?
WB: When I started there were only three employees and although two of them were very positive, the operations manager didn’t take it very well. He was very negative because he felt a challenge to his authority.

CD: Did you feel like you were under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
WB: I definitely felt like I was under much more scrutiny by both my dad and one of the employees.

CD: What is the best and worst part about working for a parent?
WB: The most difficult part was the yelling I was going to get if I made a mistake. Of course, my father was always going to treat me like a child whatever I was doing. The best part, however, is no matter what your position is in the company, you’re pretty much your own boss. At least that’s how I felt from day one.

CD: How difficult is it getting out of work mode outside of work?
WB: Now that’s a smart question because in order to be a great owner, you never really get out of work mode. But at the same time, you have to make sure that you don’t allow it to adversely affect your social and family life. However, that skill comes over time and varies for each person. You and your family have to be sure to always leave work-related topics at the office. Unless it’s absolutely urgent, you don’t speak about it at family gatherings.

CD: What advice would you give operators who are considering bringing their children on board?
WB: When you’re at the office, always treat them as an employee and not like a kid! Your kid, just like me, has a lot of pressure just because we are the offspring of the owner. And at the end of the day, you are our parents and we just don’t want to let you down.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
WB: Cherish the great guidance you get from your parents. Learn from both their successes as well as their mistakes.

cd-1213-blanchard-erlich-new-gen Jay Erlich Jay Erlich . 28
Vice President of Europe Limousine Service in New York, N.Y.
Years at Company: 11
Starting Position: Reservationist, customer service, and data entry; later, roadshow marketing and group events
Primary Market: Corporate
Fleet Size: 103

CD: Did working your first positions with the company help you in your current role?
JE: If I wasn’t put into each and every one of those jobs, I would not be able to run a successful company today. It’s very important to be able to jump in any role and be able to train employees in any job within the company. Only then can you call yourself an effective leader.

CD: When you entered the company, what was the reaction of the staff? Was it positive, negative, welcoming, skeptical? JE: It was not easy to gain the trust of my colleagues. When I first became operations manager, they were very skeptical and we ended up having to let a few of them go because they just weren’t on board. It’s important to prove to the staff that you are a good leader and are going to work harder than anyone else.

CD: Did you feel like you were under more or less scrutiny than other employees?
JE: Tons of scrutiny! You tend to be under more scrutiny by a father who holds you to a higher standard than other employees. You’re also under a lot of scrutiny by every other manager who wanted to become the right-hand man to the owner. They watch every single move you make, and until you start showing that you are a leader, respect is a major issue.

CD: What are the best and worst parts of working for family?
JE: There are a lot of perks that come with working for family. You don’t have to go through the hassles of getting personal or vacation time authorized. Also, if you make a mistake or do something wrong, you can always count on family to let you know—that’s for sure! However, everyone thinks they’re right, and because of that, it generally takes some time until everyone comes to agreement on issues.

CD: What advice would you give to operators who are considering bringing their children on board? JE: First, start them out at the bottom and let them work their way up. Make sure they learn all of the ins and outs of the industry. Second, be patient. They’re going to make mistakes so don’t yell because you’re going to hurt their confidence.

CD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering working for their parents’ company?
JE: Have thick skin because you’re working for your parents and they’re going to come down on you hard. When that happens, just pull yourself together and dig in. Pay attention and learn everything about the company as well as the industry. Not everyone is cut out for this business. If your children are doing things half-assed or showing signs that they either don’t care or aren’t willing to listen, it may be time to look for outside managerial help until they prove they’re serious and are in it for the long haul.

If there is one takeaway from this article, it’s that passing the torch is never easy and there’s no “typical” experience for a child entering the family business. In the end, everyone questioned agreed that working for the family business is a great experience and is well worth any sacrifices—but it’s not without its challenges.

If you work for a family-owned company, you may understand the people involved a little better now that you’ve taken in their perspectives. And if you’re in business with your family, perhaps now you can agree that it’s not always easy to walk in someone else’s shoes. With a little patience, understanding, listening, and establishing of boundaries, it can be one of the best experiences for a parent and child—and possibly generations to come. [CD12.13]

 

WAYNE BLANCHARD IS A LONGTIME INDUSTRY WRITER AND A FORMER OPERATOR. HE CAN BE REACHED AT SOUTHERNYANKEE98@GMAIL.COM.