Say the term “family business” and many people think of a company founded a generation or two ago called “Jones & Sons” (or “& Daughters”). You can put away that stereotype when it comes to Kalos Services, an HVAC and construction company in Clermont, Fla., near Orlando. The company was started a decade ago by two brothers-in-law and a son/nephew. Today, eight more relatives of the founders are on staff and two other families have two or more relatives working at the company. We asked one of the co-founders, Bryan Orr, VP-service, to explain to us how so many family members can work together productively.
Kalso Services founders, circa 2008
Our experience in family business is a joy. Sure, I’ve had a few times when my internal temperature has risen to a point where I threw a sipper cup through a window or a stapler into a wall. But those are stories for another time. For now, I’ll focus on the majority of the time when being a part of a family business is one of the greatest joys in my life.
My dad, uncle and I co-founded the business in 2005. From the beginning, we each had a specialized set of skills and specific role to play. Like most small businesses, we made a lot of mistakes at first, but the one thing we got right was having one clear authority. My dad had the final call on decisions when there were disputes, and he had the final control over the purse strings.
My role was running the day-to-day operations of the service business (HVAC, electrical, pool heating), which at first just meant me doing everything myself. I quickly recruited my wife’s teenage brother to help on labor-intensive projects. I next hired my brother and my sister’s husband. Soon, there were several more brothers-in-law on staff.
A decade later, I now work with my father, mother, brother and uncle; four brothers-in-law; one sister-in-law and two cousins. (That’s 11 of us, if you’re counting.) Additionally, there are other families (unrelated to us) who have two or more employees on staff.
Our family has lots of different personality types ranging from quiet and studious to loud and sarcastic and every personality in between.
We’ve all had times where we’ve gotten upset with one another. Relationship walls have risen and fallen. We have called one another names, and ranted to our spouses about one another.
But all in all, our approach to a family business has worked out well, and we have an exceptionally positive work environment.
Here are some tips for other family businesses that we’ve learned from ours:
Don’t be unrealistic.
You are a family. You cannot fully separate work and family. There will be baggage and pains that exist because you are family, so be honest about it. Talk through issues and don’t pretend like the family element isn’t there. People will talk and gossip between one another in a family from time to time, so you have to be strong enough to deal with it if you want the business to work out.
Be clear about authority.
You must not take on “assumed” authority structures. It must be clear who is in charge of different aspects of decision making. It is much more difficult when my father second-guesses a decision I make because he is my father and criticism is felt much more sharply. It is better to be clear and upfront rather than emotional and rash later. When things start to break down emotionally it helps to know who is in charge and ultimately responsible.
Be willing to fire.
Never hire a family member whom you couldn’t let go later. I would advise having the specific conversation upfront and be clear that if they could not handle the relational impact of being fired then they should not accept the job.
Respect is key.
Within a family, the sense of being respected or disrespected will be felt with polarizing intensity, even when that sense is inaccurate. I have found that this is the area that I have personally failed the most. My brother has told me that he did not feel particularly respected by me even though I feel a very great level of respect internally. I have learned that being purposeful with my verbal communication and body language makes all the difference.
Hire people of integrity.
If you don’t feel confident in the character and integrity of a particular family member, don’t hire them! It will bring you nothing but heartache. This not only goes for the employee themselves, but also for his or her spouse. Dave Ramsey says it best, “If you are hiring someone with a crazy spouse, you are bringing crazy into your business.”
Don’t promote or hire family over other qualified candidates. Anyone who works in your business needs to be there because he or she is the best fit, not because of whom he or she knows. If you start to play favorites, your ability to attract and keep great help will be greatly diminished.
In our business there is a clear culture of trust and respect that is actually increased by our family ties. It is a constant process of communication and refactoring to keep the dream from becoming a nightmare.
Kalos Services today.
Would you like to share with us some lessons you’ve learned from running your business? Email us at Tips@SmallBusiness.com