The Family Business Challenge

A look inside life in a family-owned business.

A significant number of GAWDA distributorships are family-owned businesses. What do parents and adult children working in these companies see as the best, and most difficult, parts of being in business together? We challenged five teams of Young Leaders and their executive parents to share their insights. 

Ken Linnenbringer, President, & Todd Linnenbringer, Vice President
Delta Gases (Maryland Heights, MO)

Family Challenge: Delta GasesHailing from Maryland Heights, Missouri, Team Linnenbringer, representing Delta Gases, Inc., includes first-generation company president Ken Linnenbringer, 62, and second-generation vice president Todd Linnenbringer, 33. Ken founded Delta Gases in 1995 at the age of 49. Todd joined the team four years later at the age of 23.

Todd Linnenbringer: THE BEST part for me is working side by side with my dad. He started the business while I was away at college; a year after I graduated, he asked me if I wanted to work for him, even though he was worried that if it didn’t work out it might affect our relationship. It was a huge surprise to have the opportunity to work with Dad, and I jumped at it. That was 10 years ago, and we’re both still here.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is when he is unhappy about something. I’m always the first one to know about it and the first one to feel the wrath. Naturally, I take it a little harder than anyone else because the last thing I want to do is disappoint him. Someone whose boss isn’t his or her parent just isn’t going feel the same way.

Ken Linnenbringer: THE BEST thing is experiencing all the good that happens with the company throughout the year and being able to enjoy those rewards together as a family. You’re creating a legacy.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part could have been if I hired my son—he’s the only family member that actually works here—and it didn’t work out. Luckily, he turned out to be one of my best employees, if not the best. From the start, I treated him like a regular employee and he responded well to that. Now he’s the vice president and continues to do an excellent job for me. 

Marvin Lampton, Chairman and CEO, & Doug Lampton, Vice President
Lampton Welding Supply Company (Wichita, KS)

Family Challenge: Lampton Welding SupplyTeam Lampton of Wichita, Kansas, representing Lampton Welding Supply Company, includes second-generation chairman and CEO Marvin Lampton, 66, and third-generation vice president Doug Lampton, 38. Lampton Welding Supply was founded by Marcel Lampton in 1946, when Marvin was 4 years old. Marvin joined the company in 1967 after military service and became chairman and CEO in 1985. Doug has been involved with the company since the age of 14. He began working there full-time in 1995 and became vice president in 2006. 

Doug Lampton: THE BEST part is the independent feel of the company as compared with the stricter structure of a publicly-traded corporation. We’re able to make our own rules and judgment calls on behalf of the customer, not on a corporate policy without flexibility.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is that it’s hard to separate family from business. You don’t always want to talk business over a holiday dinner. It is very difficult to separate work life and home life when you leave the office.

Marvin Lampton: THE BEST part is guiding your own destiny and creating that same opportunity for your kids. You are able to make decisions and see them through; make things happen. I can challenge my sons with difficult tasks and be there to see them achieve results.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is when it comes to discipline. When a family member doesn’t follow the rules of how you think an employee should conduct business, you feel obligated to be more tolerant and try to work things out. If it was a non-family member causing a problem, you’d be much quicker to terminate him.

Bob Thornton Jr., President, & Andrew Thornton, Branch Manager
South Jersey Welding Supply (Vineland, NJ)

Family Challenge: South Jersey Welding SupplyTeam Thornton comes from Vineland, New Jersey, representing South Jersey Welding Supply, Inc., and is composed of company president Robert Thornton Jr., 60, and his eldest son, Vineland branch manager Andrew Thornton, 33. Robert is second-generation owner of the company, which his father, Robert Sr., acquired in 1962. Robert Jr. worked at the company throughout high school and college, came on full time in 1970 and became president in 1988. Andrew has been with the company full-time since 2000 and took over as branch manager in 2005. 

Andrew Thornton: THE BEST part is having the opportunity to learn the industry and help grow the business. Watching my father and grandfather as I was growing up, I learned the value of hard work on a personal and professional level. In a small company, especially a family business, you are an individual, and you have a voice and feel a real part of its success.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is that the stresses of the job can wear on you over time because it’s your business. “The buck stops here,” as Harry Truman said. Everything becomes your responsibility, and you have to pay close attention to every single detail of every single thing every minute of the day.

Robert Thornton Jr.: THE BEST part is the satisfaction of seeing the next generation grow and mature as adults and become more adept in the business. Ideally, I’d like to see all three from the third generation—my sons, Andrew and Matthew, and my nephew, David—learn all elements of the business. It’s hard to give them exposure to everything, but that is my goal as president of the family business.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part for a family member working in the business is that being average is just not good enough. You must always strive to excel. Family members come under a lot of scrutiny from fellow employees and there can be a degree of jealousy there. Another issue is family tension. I have yet to see a family business anywhere that has not dealt with some degree of friction between family members. It’s a challenge, and you must learn to deal with it. 

Robert Garner, President, & Tracey Akers, Human Resources Director
Oz-Arc/Gas Equipment & Supply (Cape Girardeau, MO)

Family Challenge: Ozarc GasTeam Garner hails from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and represents Oz-Arc/Gas Equipment & Supply, Inc. Robert Garner, 60, is secondgeneration president of Oz-Arc, which was acquired by his father, R.C. Garner, in 1943. Robert joined the company in 1972 following service in the Navy and became president in 1983. His daughter, thirdgeneration family-business member Tracey Akers, 35, joined the company in 1999, and is human resources director and also does accounting. 

Tracey Akers: THE BEST part is that I get to be with my family so much. It makes us much closer than if we had separate careers with different companies. When the company succeeds, and so many people who contribute to that success are family, there is a wonderful feeling of shared achievement. You take more pride in it, knowing that you did it as a family.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is that when you step off company property, you must leave business issues behind. You simply can’t let them interfere with your personal life. It’s something that takes practice over time. Another challenge is the pressure you create for yourself to outperform non-family members. You hold yourself to a higher standard; you have to prove yourself.

Robert Garner: THE BEST part is that it brings the family closer by sharing a common goal—the company’s success. One of the joys of working with my kids is seeing them grow on a daily basis into mature, responsible people. It’s rewarding to watch them excel professionally. When your kids aren’t around you all the time, with separate careers elsewhere, you just don’t get to experience that.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is making sure that the decisions I make that relate to my kids are transparent to nonfamily associates in the business. It’s important that other employees never feel they are at a disadvantage for input or opportunity within the company. With family members, I may see a talent in them they don’t see, or a problem they may have in a certain area that they need to work on. It’s hard bringing these issues out and making it a positive discussion so they can develop a skill further or resolve a problem. 

Amar Kapur, President and CEO, & Jay Kapur, General Manager
AIM Welding Supply (Auburn, MA)

Family Challenge: AIM Welding SupplyFrom Auburn, Massachusetts, comes Team Kapur of AIM Welding Supply, represented by first-generation president and CEO Amar Kapur, 66, and second-generation general manager Jay Kapur, 41. Amar founded AIM Welding Supply in 1973. Son Jay has been contributing to the company’s success since the age of 14, officially joining the roster in 1986 at 18. He became general manager in 1990. 

Jay Kapur: THE BEST thing is that you wear many different hats as one of the family in a family business. There’s little chance to be pigeonholed. I enjoy working with my family; we respect each others’ roles and give each other the space we need to do our jobs well.

THE MOST CHALLENGING part is when a customer assumes that a family-owned business is some kind of mom-and-pop store that lacks financial resources, when in reality a lot of family businesses like ours are well established and can certainly compete for large contracts. 

Amar Kapur: THE BEST part of a family business is sharing a common goal; you are focused on the health of the family business because you all have a monetary and emotional stake in its success. Seeing family members working together, feeding on each other’s strengths and sharing in the success, is extremely gratifying.

THE MOST CHALLENGING thing is that the success level of the business is equated with your personal success or failure. When you have more than one offspring in your business—I have a son and a daughter—you may experience sibling rivalry. Also, you do not want to create the impression that a female family member cannot succeed in this traditionally male industry.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association