VERY FEW FAMILY businesses go longer than three generations. I have been reminded over the years by successful people of a quote, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” What it comes down to is the first generation works hard, the next generation has it a little easier, and by the third generation they have to roll up their sleeves and dig in and work as hard as the first generation.

Our son Carter has taken over a number of our newspapers with great success and I’m proud of him. I have reminded him of the quote.

THE OTHER DAY I was looking through my suggested column idea file and found “Lessons I Learned” from the April-May 2011 issue of Upsize magazine. Craig Kruckeberg, CEO of Spray Control Systems, Inc., wrote the following lessons in August 2006:

“In 1999/2000 I became CEO, taking over from my father. I think we just broke a million at that point. My father didn’t teach. He didn’t sit me down and say, here’s what to do. I had to keep one eye on him and one eye on my job.

We used to have some serious fisticuffs. There would be a million times when I’d walk out. I’d say I’m done. My mother would get in between us and tell us to work it out.

One thing I learned from my father was the work ethic. He’d be down here on Saturday and Sunday. I started doing that. Last night I got home at 5:30, and everybody looked at me saying, are you sick?

At first, I would just buy advertising on the sly. Now I spend $22,000 a month on advertising, but my father was old school. That first ad was $400, and we got calls. I kept telling him, people won’t just wake up with our phone number in their head.

He slowly brought me into it. He and mom would go to Arizona and leave me in charge, first for two weeks, then three weeks, then six weeks. It was do or die.

He said, don’t be spending a lot of money to buy equipment because if someone goes out of business, we’ll get the equipment cheaper. We’d buy spray paint and paint our own brackets, not powder-coat them like we do now.

If you’re good to me, I’ll be steadfast and loyal. I have vendors that go back for 22 years.

If you keep your  books in order, you’re so much better off. There are times you don’t want to look at your books because you’re sick to your stomach. But it’s better to know.

No matter what the size of the business, it’s all the same problems, just one more zero. I can’t look at the dollars because I’d be in the bathroom throwing up. You just have to look at it as one more zero.

We’ve just slowly grown, 20 to 22% a year. Now it’s a snowball rolling downhill. You do 20% growth, and then 20% again, and then you hit 40%, like we’re at now, and it gets kind of hazy.

I read about companies that are going to grow 256% and I say, OK, I want to talk to you, because how can you control that?

We’re up 40% this year over last year. We have a great product and it just takes time. We’re getting notoriety. Customers don’t want to talk to you when you’re small, because they need parts from you for 50 years.

I know a lot of people that want a quick million, but that’s not how it works. You don’t want that kind of growth. Growth has to come. I’ve learned you’ve got to be patient.”

A family business can be a wonderful experience and at the same time very difficult when it comes to time of transition. I know firsthand mothers are good referees. Also, it can be difficult to have a bunch of family members in the operation, but if you do, job descriptions are going to have to be clear and one president or CEO is held accountable. I hope those in family businesses who are reading this will find it helpful and encouraging as Carter and I have.

GARY JOHNSON RETIRED from MSP Communications in July. In his final column he makes a point about social media and reminds us of the old maxim, “False knowledge is even more dangerous than ignorance.” He makes another point that we have grown to mistake opining and commentary for journalism.

In conclusion, he recommends seeking good information, support its best practitioners with your subscription and advertising, and keep up the good fight. It’s a job won for the better world.

AT THE LAST moment before Kathy and I were scheduled to be at the Letterpress Museum at the Minnesota State Fair, due to Covid-19 and the Delta variant increasing, we decided not to go. Our next scheduled visit on Sept. 2 was also canceled. The museum continues, but our health was a greater consideration. Our apologies.


Gene Johnson is publisher emeritus of Press Publications.

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