Moving Up The Family Business Ladder

Steve LichtenheldTerrace Supply Company is a family business in the truest form of the phrase. I am the fourth generation of my family to work for the company and, as cliché as it sounds, growing up in a family business, it becomes a part of you.

I started working at the company as a teenager, doing everything from mowing the lawns and to working in the warehouse. After I graduated high school, I headed off to Wheaton College, where I graduated with a degree in Christian Education. Upon completing college, I took a job in the restaurant industry. After gaining some experience there, I came home.

Working My Way Up
When I returned to the company, I started off in sales. I spent two years in that department before being promoted to director of development and training. I spent another year-and-a-half in that position until six months ago, when I earned the title I have today—director of supply chain management.

 As director of supply chain management, I have quite a few responsibilities. I do the purchasing for all of our locations, monitor supplies and specials and meet and negotiate with our vendors. Overall, I supervise 20 people. All of our store managers indirectly report to me because I manage their entire inventory.

Bridging the Gap
Being a 26-year-old in the position that I have achieved, it goes without saying that some of the people I supervise are older than me. In fact, I’m younger than my assistant. In some cases, employees might resent being supervised by someone younger than them, however, that hasn’t been the case with me. I started at the bottom doing janitorial work and all of the veterans know that. They have seen me work my way up the ladder which has enabled me to earn their respect, not just demand it.

That isn’t to say it’s not without challenges. This industry has an old-school mentality and change is often frowned upon. However, since I do work with so many people—vendors, salespeople, store managers, etc.—I am able to get their input during the decision- making process. That way, when I make a decision, I’m not just doing it independently; the employees are involved in the process. This is important to me, especially working at a family business. We are passionate about our employees and what we do. This job isn’t just black and white, every decision I make has an effect on the people that work here and that’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Steve Lichtenheld Meet the Author
Steve Lichtenheld is the director of supply chain management at Terrace Supply Company in Villa Park, IL. He graduated from Wheaton College.