How to Get the Next Generation Involved in the Family Business

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Triple C Sand & Gravel of Baker City, Oregon, has been a family business for generations, says Dawson Vanderwiele, family member and equipment operator. “When we still had the ready-mix side, I was the fourth generation there.” Triple C sold out the ready-mix side of its business in 2020 to focus on sand, gravel, crushing and screening, where she’s a member of the third generation in that business. Her sister Campbell is also involved in Triple C and their mom does the books, as she has for years.

Now the big question is, how do you keep younger generations involved?

Engage them in the day-to-day operations.

“Make the family business part of family discussions,” Vanderwiele says. “You have to give them the taste of it. Every day should be bring-your-child-to-work day, whether that’s for a full day or a few hours after school.” 

She says on-the-job training is essential as most family businesses don’t have formal training plans. “Although those with 50 or more employees probably should.” She says the main thing is open, honest and frequent communication. “Tell younger workers not only what you’re doing but also why you’re doing it in that way.”

Stay active and set standards.

“You don’t retire,” says Vanderwiele. “You die doing what you love.” That’s what happened when her grandfather, Cass, passed away in July 2022. He had been active in the business to the end.

Be flexible, but also have a plan.

Triple C didn’t have a succession plan. “It was always assumed things would play out as they did, and luckily it did.” Her uncle Corey’s role remained largely unchanged, but her father, Casey, took over what his father had been doing in managing the yard. This meant Casey had to step away from the excavating services offered by Triple C. There was no one to take up those jobs, so while Triple C still does limited excavating, it mostly refers inquiries to other area contractors while focusing on the sand and gravel business. “Since we didn’t have any plan in place, we don’t know what the future holds. We’re still sorting through changes brought about by the loss of my grandfather.”

Attract young, non-family workers.

Some family businesses remain small and family members meet all the staffing needs, but for many, that’s not true. There’s value in attracting younger workers, whether they’re your kids or someone else’s.

Vanderwiele says senior generations may need to change their approach to recruiting. “They came from an environment where hopeful applicants approached companies. That still happens but to a much lesser degree. Younger workers want you to come to them. Recruiting now requires getting out into the community.” Go to the schools. Use social media, which can be especially effective when it’s managed by someone who understands social media. It’s all about content, and about your ability to tell the story of your business in a compelling way.

Do younger workers come with a sense of entitlement? “They don’t care about title or position,” says Vanderwiele. “They look at the dollar sign. It’s the fact that they’re making good money that appeals to them.”

Her advice for younger workers, whether in the family or not: “If you don’t start out with a shovel, you’re probably not going anywhere. Don’t be afraid or too proud to pick up that shovel. You’ll be driving a fancy new pickup truck soon enough.” The most valuable employees in an organization are those with experience in all facets of the business. “If you’re willing to learn, they’re willing to teach you. You just have to show up.”

AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 1,000 companies and 200-plus product lines in the agriculture and construction-related sectors worldwide. AEM has an ownership stake in and manages several world-class exhibitions, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


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