How do you make a family business work? Just ask the leaders of these multi-generation organizations.
While the idea of working with family members may conjure visions of stress and drama for some, the families who do it well share a few core concepts. Members of successful family businesses respect and trust their family members, share the same goals for success, have specific roles that suit their talents, and, most of all, introduce elements of fun into their working relationships. Here are several local parents and their children who not only work together, but work well together.
The Christian Sharing Center
In 1986, representatives from 16 local churches came up with an inspired idea: to create a place to send people in need who came to their churches seeking food, clothing, and financial assistance for rent or utilities. They hired Angie Romagosa to put it together, and the nonprofit Christian Sharing Center was born in Longwood. What started as a small storefront with a “clothes closet” now comprises an entire strip mall. The complex houses office space for case managers to meet with clients, a thrift store, a warehouse packed with donations, a well-stocked food pantry with both food and personal items, and the Oasis, a comfort space for the homeless, offering showers, haircuts, laundry facilities, and computers.
Since the inception of the center, Angie’s husband, Mark J. Romagosa, and her son, Mark A. Romagosa, have joined the team, along with Angie’s granddaughter, Haley Osburn, who is a favorite at the thrift store.
“It is my granddaughter who steals everyone’s hearts,” says Angie. “Sometimes, when I’m down in the thrift store checking on things, customers come up to me and ask where Haley is. If I tell them that she’s at school or off that day, they are always disappointed. Seems like I just don’t fill the bill!”
One challenge for the family is that it’s hard to turn off their passion for helping people.
“It’s great to work with family and be able to spend time with them as well as share ideas. However, some days it seems like that is all my husband and I talk about,” says Angie.
She says even family gatherings turn into Sharing Center “events.”
Since mother and son work out of the same office, perks include lunch dates on many occasions, but with father and son sharing a name, things can get confusing.
“When people hear ‘Romagosa,’ they know we are related,” says Angie. “They seem to expect that Mark A. and I are husband-and-wife, not mother-and-son, because they know my husband works here, too. I’m sure that many of them sigh in relief when they realize that my son doesn’t have this old lady for a wife!”
Angie plans to spend many more days in her role as president and CEO, but she’s thinking of the future.
“Since we are a nonprofit, we don’t own the business, so I can’t really pass it on,” Angie explains. “It would be fantastic if my son decided to follow me, but that will be up to him and the board of directors.”
With more than 35 years of combined experience in the automotive business, Peter Wilson and partner Terry Taylor opened the Sanford Infiniti dealership in 2012. Peter’s son, Christopher Wilson, joined the business three years ago and now works alongside his dad.
Among the many advantages of working with his son, Peter counts “intrinsic knowledge of one another’s characters, behaviors, and work ethic together with the close bonds that have been established over our history together” as assets.
This combination “culminates in a mutual trust and appreciation of each other,” Peter adds. Mutual respect is important, since Peter believes children in a family business shouldn’t be treated differently because of their genes.
“It’s important that family members be successful in their own right – that they possess the passion, drive, and energy required for them to perform at the highest level and not be propped up simply because of their family relationship,” explains Peter.
His son Christopher had a different challenge early on.
“My dad has always been the consummate businessman, hardworking and professional,” Christopher says, so the difficulty was in managing the father/son, employer/employee relationship. “He and I have always been very close, from starting golf together 20 years ago to riding motorcycles on Sunday afternoons. So when I began in the business three years ago, I did not realize there was a need for somewhat of a boundary on that father/son familiarity.”
Christopher recounts how, when he started as a sales consultant, he would barge into his dad’s office with a ridiculous smile and casual, boisterous greeting just to see how things were going.
“He would look at me with a mix of confusion and fear, most likely because he wasn’t ready for that kind of energy bouncing around his office,” says Christopher. Peter would respond in his distinct English manner with a polite, “I’m doing well. Now get back to work, lad.”
Despite the initial formality in the workplace, Peter has only compliments to share about his son. It is Peter’s intention to pass along his interests in the business to Christopher, because, as he says, “I believe that in time, he will go on to do better than I. This has a positive effect on business operations because there is a goal in sight for both parties and something that we can collectively work toward.”
Although Christopher knew it wasn’t in Peter’s nature to let his guard down at work, over the years, the father/son relationship has melded with the employer/employee relationship.
“I think he has allowed our longtime friendship to also have a place at the dealership,” says Christopher. “Now he’s the one asking me, ‘What’s new lately with you?’”
Entrepreneurs and former house flippers Theresa Lentini-Lopez and Pablo Lopez entered the mortgage industry following the dip in the market in the early 2000s.
“We started a partnership with a company in Alabama,” says Theresa. “We rented out a room in Kinko’s to train new loan officers with information we learned the night before. From 10 loan originators, the company continued to grow at a rapid pace. In the first three years we had more than 150 offices nationwide and more than 1,000 employees.”
Theresa’s son Christian was 15 at the time, and it was clear he was also an entrepreneur at heart. “He would charge originators to stack their files,” jokes Theresa. “He loved learning about the mortgage business.”
Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find Christian, alongside his parents, managing the corporate location of Home1st Lending, LLC, in Lake Mary. Working elbow-to-elbow had its challenges at first.
“My mom and dad had to come to terms with the fact that their little boy was growing up, and the respect for his role had to be realized and vice versa,” explains Theresa. “Everyone had to learn to accept criticism, learn from it, and not let it affect the family dynamics.”
Separating home and work life can also be tricky, but the Lopezes have a handle on that, as well.
“We all love what we do, and we talk mortgages all day long,” says Theresa. “But we had to make sure that we respect the rest of the family members and cut it off when we are spending quality time together.”
The Lopezes do enjoy their time together, whether at work or at home.
“We do laugh from time to time, more due to Pablo’s joking,” says Theresa. “I remember when Christian spoke to me and Pablo and asked him not to treat him like his son, because he is a coworker and needs others in the office to respect his position.”
The parents got the message: The next day, when they walked into the office, Pablo looked at Christian with a serious face and in a deep tone said, “Well hello, coworker!”
“The office thought it was so funny, but the point was made,” laughs Theresa.
Harrell & Beverly Transmissions & Auto Repair
It certainly says something about your relationship with your father-in-law if you want to start a business with him. Samuel Harrell began Harrell & Beverly Transmissions & Auto Repair with his son-in-law David Beverly in Bluefield, West Virginia, in the 1950s, and the business is still thriving in the hands of the Beverly family.
In order to visualize this family tree, you might need a notepad and pencil. You see, David’s two sons, Alvin and Don, are the current owners of the shop, which relocated to Sanford in 1959. Don’s wife Hope also works with the family. Then there’s Alvin, whose sons Nelson and Lloyd (and don’t forget Lloyd’s wife Angela) are involved in the business, as well. They’re all part of one big, happy, working family business.
“The business partnership was unique in that it was a father-in-law and son-in-law relationship,” explains Alvin. “The foundation of their business was based upon the principles of love and respect.”
The family has followed the lead of its patriarch in dealing with each other. Trust and respect are foundations of their business.
“We have trust in knowing that each family member will fulfill their responsibilities to make the family business successful,” explains Alvin. It helps that they all share a passion for the trade and a mutual respect for one another.
“Much like how we work on vehicles to diagnose and fix problems, family has to maintain and improve relationships constantly,” adds Lloyd. “The daily grind can take it out of you. When things get hard, if you’re not careful, you can take it out on the ones you love the most.”
While there can be stress, there’s no lack of fun at this family shop. Alvin relates that his brother Don, who has a prosthetic leg, will occasionally play tricks on his co-workers.
“One of our technicians was not aware of Donny’s artificial leg,” Alvin explains. “Donny was on a creeper under a truck, and Donny hollered to the technician to help pull him and the creeper from under the truck. Donny had loosened his artificial leg and stuck that leg out for the technician to grab. Of course, when the technician pulled on his leg, it came off in his hands. The technician’s eyes got as big as dinner plates. The laughter from all in the shop could be heard outside of the building!”
Light Bulbs Unlimited
When the Satill family came to Florida from Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1993, son Brad assumed they were going to visit Walt Disney World. He was wrong. It turned out that his father Avron was looking for a job with a plan to immigrate to the United States.
“A recruiter in South Florida introduced my father to a group of fellow South Africans who had opened up some light bulb retail outlets in the area,” says Brad, who now lives in Longwood. An accountant and banker, Avron had little experience in the light bulb business, but he wanted to learn. “He was willing to do whatever it took to provide his family with the opportunities that are unique to America.”
In the summer of 1994, Avron opened Light Bulbs Unlimited in a small storefront in Winter Park. Since then, it’s evolved into a glittering, modern 11,000-square-foot showroom. Brad joined the business four years ago. The father-and-son duo balance each other out, making an excellent team.
“We have very different strengths,” says Brad. “I am much more of an extrovert. I get that from my mom.”
While Brad plays a key role in developing relationships with top clients, his dad is what Brad calls “a strategic genius. He has made several instrumental decisions over the years that have been key to the growth and success of this business.”
And it is a business that is focused on relationships. Avron maintains a good work environment for his employees, many of whom have watched Brad grow up.
“Many of our employees have been working for the company for 10 to 15 years or more,” says Brad. “And it’s always fun to meet customers that have been dealing with my dad for so long.”
As for the future? At 61, Avron still plays a major role in the organization.
“My dad will tell you that he plans on working as long as he can find his way to the store,” says Brad. “The only certain thing about the future is that it’s sure to be filled with uncertainty.” But that doesn’t concern Brad.
“The biggest advantage is the relationship that I’ve developed with my dad,” he says. “He has always been a mentor to me, but that bond has only strengthened since I began working here.”
Tony Tsirigotis opened his first jewelry store in 1985 and has been in the jewelry business ever since. He opened Park Jewelers in Lake Mary in 2010, and a year later, his wife Sylvie joined the team, making the high-end store an official family-run business.
Son Demetre began working at Park Jewelers during his senior year at Lake Mary High School for his on-the-job training program. That’s when it became clear that Demetre wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. When Demetre graduated, he didn’t want to stop working, but he craved the college experience and to further his education. Attending GIA (Gemological Institute of America in New York City), a leader in its industry, was a natural transition for him.
“Demetre attended almost the same amount of hours of college in nine months that most people attend in several years,” says Sylvie. “He earned his Graduate Gemologist Degree and was ready to hit the ground running, sharing his knowledge at Park Jewelers.”
Tony and Sylvie were amazed at how many customers regularly stopped in to inquire about Demetre and how he was doing at school.
“It was so heartfelt and so nice to know how our customers care about our family like we care about theirs,” says Sylvie. “We all have a great working relationship. Our relationship is pretty seamless at work, making it easy to anticipate each other’s needs. It helps us support each other and make sure that we are able to really provide excellent customer service. I think we make a great team with our individual strengths.”
But is the relationship the same at home? Sylvie explains: “At work, we do share our personal life and go in and out of husband/wife relationship and parent/child relationship, but the reverse does not occur. When we leave work, it’s only family and not our work relationship.”
The family certainly enjoys their time together, as evidenced by the amount of laughter that echoes throughout the store.
“We laugh a lot,” says Sylvie.
Tony concurs. “The biggest advantage of working with family is being together, but it can also be the biggest disadvantage,” he says. “It makes it really hard to take a family vacation!”
Demetre agrees. “I feel so fortunate to get a head start into this business because we are family and my dad has been doing this for so long,” Demetre says. “We all have a great relationship, so working together is fun and definitely entertaining.”
So how do they solve conflicts at work? Why, they go to the internet, of course. Recently, on Tony and Sylvie’s wedding day, Tony insisted on working.
“The wedding was at 6:30, and he wanted to work until 5:00!” says Sylvie, who felt Tony should leave earlier. “We debated on how late he should stay, and we took it to a vote on Facebook.”
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Sylvie won with overwhelming support.