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Why did I leave a comfortable position in higher education to help family businesses grow, thrive, and create legacies? Here’s a little look behind the curtain.

 

I grew up in family business.  Multiple ones.  To say my parents were hard workers and driven is an understatement.  Hard workers they were.  Business-minded they were not.

 

I spent my entire high school career working with my parents in the family business, which at that time was a coffee truck.  My family ran a food truck years before it became the hottest fad in the country.  We bought a route, basically a map of locations that the truck would stop at and sell food to office workers and construction workers and everyone in between.

 

This food truck was just the latest in a line of businesses that my parents started – and eventually closed. It was also quite a departure from the commercial landscaping business that was owned (and closed) prior to jumping feet first into the foodservice industry.  In my parents’ heads, ”THIS… this business was the one that was going to work!”

 

So we hustled.  Making food for the truck day and night.  Sure there was a commissary where food could be purchased wholesale to sell on the truck, but it was expensive and not of the greatest quality, two concepts that completely went against my parents’ values.  They decided to only use the commissary to supplement what we couldn’t produce ourselves. During high school, I spent early mornings and late nights making dozens upon dozens of homemade muffins, egg sandwiches, soups, and any other random recipes that customers requested. I complained about it as any angsty teenager would, but I enjoyed the work, and even more, I enjoyed working with my parents.  And really, that’s all my family wanted to do.  Feed people in order to build a business.  But what I didn’t know was that my parents wanted to build a business in order to keep from losing our home.

 

As I typed that sentence, I was immediately brought back to the frequent night-time arguments between my parents. While I was hiding out in my room, Pearl Jam blaring on my stereo enough to drown out most of the conversation, it was not enough to cover up the screaming and the crying about how we’re never going to make enough money… and we’re going to lose our house.

 

I am the youngest of three. At the time of the food truck adventure, my brothers had long since moved out and created their own lives. This left me alone to process these arguments and the question rolling around my head of, “would we REALLY have to sell our home?”

 

As a teenager, I wasn’t equipped to process anything this serious.  All I was concerned about at the time of my life was what color I was going to dye my hair and what new CDs I was going to buy at the mall.  I had no clue that the early mornings and late nights filled with cooking food, cleaning the truck and planning the routes was all fueled by my parents’ fear of losing everything that they had worked for their whole adult lives together.

 

And my parents just did what they did.  They continued to do the hustle every day.  It’s what they knew.  Maybe tomorrow would bring more customers.  Or maybe tomorrow would bring a recipe that all of our customers just had to buy in huge quantities.  Those “what ifs” were never really communicated, at least not to me.  We never talked about anything like strategy or long term planning or costs of running the business.  My parents never asked for help, or a different perspective, or even discussed their woes and concerns with me and my brothers.  They did what they thought they needed to do, which was shield us from the concern and stress of the family business.

 

This is where I say, “if I knew then what I know now…”

 

The end of this story goes like this.  My parents continued that hustle while I went away to college, until one day they had to sell the truck and the route.  Dad needed to get a more stable job with benefits so the house would be saved and Mom didn’t need to work two jobs anymore.  To say it was a messy time in my family’s history is an understatement, but WOW, did I learn a lot from it.

 

I learned that families who work together need to have those hard conversations, even though it might seem easier to “spare” the children.  I also know that you can’t build a business by concentrating only on tomorrow.  You need to think about tomorrow AND next week, next month, next year, and ten years from now.  Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking out a new perspective or getting some advice from an outside resource. Even the owners of multi-million dollar companies enlist coaches and consultants to help. It’s a game-changer to building a business that lasts.

 

Looking back, I’ve realized I do this work because I don’t want others to experience the pain and stress that my family did. Losing the house should not need to be a thought much less a spoken conversation. I never want my clients, friends, colleagues, or anyone to lose their home; that place of family memories they’ve spent a lifetime creating, because they took the courageous step of starting a business.

 

If you are, or know a business owner that is, spending time worrying and arguing with family about the prospect of losing a home, business, livelihood, lifetime of work, etc.… please encourage them to reach out to me or better yet, share this story with them. I’m here, ready to share what I’ve learned and show them tools that will ensure their hustle and hard work pays off for generations to come.

 

We’re working to build stronger families by building stronger, more agile businesses.

Join us at one of our workshops – it could be the catalyst your business needs..

Cheryl Doll profile picture
Cheryl Doll

Cheryl has spent over 20 years in higher education, wearing many different hats, including faculty development, teaching, and strategic planning. Over the last five years, she developed her passion in helping community colleges create strategic goals and building future leaders within the academy. She then saw a need for this type of work outside of higher education, specifically in family businesses, the businesses that support much of the economy in and around the Lehigh Valley.

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