MBJ Table of Experts: A Conversation on Family-Owned Businesses
Joanna Crangle/MBJ: Based on experience in your industries, how do the needs of family-owned businesses differ from your traditional business clients?
Billy Hicks: Speaking from our experience in the trade show, special event, and rental business over the past 33 years, we have found that our clients appreciate our time and attention to detail and the extra effort we put forth to make sure our clients are happy. We know that our company name carries with it a family responsibility of providing the highest-quality product, personnel, and performance. Many of our employees have been employed with us since 1986 when we first got into this business. They are like family to us. It is a feeling most traditional businesses don’t experience.
Crangle: What are some of the biggest struggles within family-owned businesses?
Hicks: For us, the busyness of our lives prevents what we feel is necessary, to develop an open line of communication and develop a proper amount of time for planning. We strive daily to make improvements. We have also discovered that it is sometimes difficult to plan and enjoy family time as a “family”.
Crangle: How should family-owned businesses handle short-term and long-term goals?
Hicks: In the beginning, our short-term goal was to outperform our competitors by hard work and determination. Our children were our long-term goal and dream that they would one day take over and we could enjoy retirement. That was one goal that never came to be as Billy, Sr. passed away in 2004.
Billy, Jr. became president and the company continued to grow. With Billy, Jr.’s leadership, we began expanding into other areas of the rental and special event business. We are blessed today to be able to continue the passion and service levels founder Billy Hicks, Sr. started by providing the finest convention and tradeshow services available in the Mid-South.
Crangle: What are some struggles with growth and managing that growth in a family-owned business?
Hicks: Hiring and maintaining employees who can deal with family differences and limited opportunities for advancement. All small businesses seem to deal with this situation when family is such a large part of the operation.
Crangle: What advice would you give to owners to help them avoid these challenges?
Hicks: Be open and honest about your feelings on the challenges that you face and learn to compromise when necessary.
Crangle: What are some nuances to consider with family-owned businesses vs. traditional businesses?
Hicks: All family members involved in the business must understand that their rights and responsibilities are different at home and at work. Family relationships and goals take precedence at home, while the success of the business comes first at work. Don’t let your friends or family pressure you for employment if they are not qualified.
Crangle: Is Memphis a market that is supportive and accessible for family-owned businesses?
Hicks: Memphis is growing and there are many ways to thrive as a small business. There is more support and accessibility now than ever before for family businesses to succeed.
Crangle: What should family-owned business be mindful of over the next 5–10 years?
Hicks: Succession planning is vital to a family-owned business. It will either lead the business into the future, or lack of planning will lead it to failure.
Crangle: Final thoughts or advice?
Hicks: Each family member you employ should be well-trained by positive role models, develop a strong work ethic, maintain a positive attitude and “keep on keeping on”, even when things get tough (and they will), and you don’t think you can.
This article first appeared, in its entirety, in the Memphis Business Journal.
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