Jackson Systems is a little different than most family owned businesses. Tom didn’t inherit his father’s business. He helped start it.
In 1997, Tom and his father decided to combine strengths and go into business together. They started Jackson Systems and ran the company out of Ron’s third car garage. From the beginning, they knew their roles. Ron focused on designing new products and Tom was responsible for running the business. Bette, Ron’s wife and Tom’s mother, handled the company’s financials.
These roles haven’t changed much in the 15 years since they started the company. Ron continues to focus on design, and Tom is still responsible for running the business. Bette still works three days a week on the company’s financials. They even have more family in the mix now, including Tom’s older brother, Joe, his sister-in-law, his uncle, and his nephew. But just because they are family doesn’t mean they are getting any preferential treatment. They are held to the same standards as every employee at Jackson Systems.
After 15 successful years running a family business, Tom has a few recommendations for running a family business:
1. Make sure you set the company up right from the start. This means bringing in good legal advisors to help you make the right decisions.
2. Make sure ownership is clear. The earlier you address and agree on this, the better.
3. Make sure everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for and what role they play in the operations of the company.
4. Be open and up front. Communication is critical. This doesn’t mean you have to agree on every issue, but you do need to listen. This gives you the ability to make better, more informed decisions.
5. Know everyone’s exit plans. Start these discussions early so that you can guide the company accordingly.
6. Communicate with family member who are not involved in the business. It is important that they understand how the business is structured (ownership, etc.) and what will happen as family members in the business enter, leave, pass away, etc.
There is no doubt that running a family business presents a unique set of challenges, but the Jackson family seems to have it figured out. By playing to each other strengths, being open and honest and having a mutual understanding of expectations, they have made their family business a success.
Hear the full interview here.