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Handing Over the Keys

My father, Albert Stohr Sr. started Conveyer & Caster in 1961. I hadn’t worked at the company for very long when in 1963 my dad fell ill. I took over the operation in January of 1964, at the age of 23. Looking back, there wasn’t a chance I was ready. My father died in March of that year. We’re fast approaching our 50th anniversary, and as I watch my sons run the company, I think it is an apt time to share one of the ways this family business has stayed successful.

My sons, Jeff and Trevor, are two intelligent, bright and driven men. They have a passion for the business and drive its success. I think the way we approached succession lent a hand in making this a reality.

I’m a firm believer that you have to experience self-made success. Nothing is more important; and I feared that just hiring my sons and eventually giving them the business would lead, ultimately, to failure. We’ve all heard it before: the kids took over the business and five years later it was all gone. I’m not certain what its causes are—maybe it is lack of work ethic, a sense of entitlement or an un-driven attitude. I thought a good way to make sure that didn’t happen was to not hire my sons; at least right away.

I made up my mind, that they had to graduate college and work successfully for another company for three to five years before I would even consider hiring them. Now, this decision at first went over like a lead balloon. To say it wasn’t popular is an understatement. But, they were kids, and that’s the way kids see the world. Come to think of it, most of my decisions weren’t popular with Jeff and Trevor back then. Even today, some still aren’t. It’s good to know I’m still their dad!

Anyway, I wanted them to find success on their own. So, Jeff, the oldest, graduated from Miami University with a degree in manufacturing engineering. He found employment with Parker Hannifin as a hydraulic technical representative in the Toledo, OH. He successfully managed a territory and grew the account base. After he joined our firm in 1989, many of his accounts from Parker became customers of Conveyer & Caster.

Trevor attended Colorado State University and earned a degree in marketing. He worked for Shell Oil managing relationships with local store owners. I hired Trevor in 1992.

When they joined the firm, I made it clear that they were just the same as everyone else working here. If they didn’t pull their weight, they’d get fired. Pretty simple: do your job, keep your paycheck. It was hard, though, being a dad and a boss. Sometimes I wanted to help them. As a father I should, but as a boss I shouldn’t. It really tore me up sometimes. I’m glad I made the decisions I did.

Jeff and Trevor started an advisory board in 2003, shortly before they took ownership. Its purpose was to help ease the transition and strategically focus the company. The board consists of four outside members, all of whom are successful current or former business owners from a diverse set of industries. When the time came, back in 2004, I thought Jeff and Trevor were pretty well ready to take over the business.

I’m glad they allow me to continue to be a member of the board. The board has also helped maintain our success. The outside members all have firms that are larger than ours. I think it’s a good perspective, them knowing what worked and didn’t as they grew, that can help us avoid the same mistakes they made.

I still go into the office most days, to provide advice and counsel, get away from the house, and sometimes, just to annoy them! I’m really proud of our company and my sons. I hope someday 50 years from now, they can write an article like this describing how we’ve maintained success for 100 years.

How do other family-owned businesses handle succession planning? Let us know in the comments section.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Meet the Author
Albert Stohr Jr. is a board member  at Conveyer  & Caster – Equipmet For Industry, located in Cleveland, Ohio, and on the web at www.cc-efi.com

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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