Ozzie Rosenholm founded OAR Moldworks/Tool & Die 30 years ago as a hands-on craftsman, skilled in the trade of making injection molds, tools and dies. That's how he built the Providence, R.I., business. ``When customers gave my dad business, they gave it to him personally because they liked him,'' said Rosenholm's son, C. Andrew.
Rosenholm had a rapport with his customers and employees that bordered on friendship.
``I've been accused of running a hobby rather than a business,'' said Rosenholm.
That began to change two years ago when the younger Rosenholm joined his father's firm. He decided the family business had to be restructured to run like a business of the 1990s.
``Our market had changed so completely that we needed to change also,'' said Andrew Rosenholm, who has an MBA from Texas A&M University.
One of the first things Rosenholm did was redirect his father's broad-based business focus toward building only injection molds. His father's philosophy of ``I'll build anything,'' was one the younger Rosenholm believed would not result in optimum profitability.
``I've tried to look at our skills and technology, and what we have to offer here at OAR, and focus our efforts and resources on that,'' said Andrew Rosenholm.
Ozzie Rosenholm said that generally he is pleased with the changes his son has made.
``I just had different goals than he had. Some things were hard for me to understand at first,'' the elder Rosenholm said. ``I'd say, what the heck did he do that for? But after I'd talk to him and get his reasoning, I'd find out it was a good thing.''
As more ``founding fathers'' in the plastics industry face retirement, they frequently look to their sons to succeed them. It is a unique mixture of a business partnership and the dynamics of the father/son relationship.
One of the primary differences is that many of the founding fathers are hands-on types, mold makers and plastics processors who understand the business in a self-educated way. The sons, however, generally are college graduates, some with business degrees who may have worked in the business but not in the area of a skilled craftsman.
As a toolmaker, Ozzie Rosenholm built a good business with a good reputation, but admits that when it came to business operations he did not know as much as he should have.
``I didn't have a good handle on finances,'' he said. ``I just sort of operated by the seat of my pants by watching my debt carefully and staying out of trouble.''
That is typical for the family-owned business in the plastics industry, said Richard Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of Management 2000, a management consulting firm in Burbank, Calif.
Ed Fleming, owner of Cal-Mold in City of Industry, Calif., said his son has a good college education with a business degree from the University of Southern California, but he does not know 10 percent of what his mold-maker father knows about the technical aspects of running a mold-making/molding business.
Since joining the company after graduation in May, Erik Fleming has done some good things at Cal-Mold, things that make his father proud. He implemented a job-costing program to determine which jobs were profitable and which were not, something his father acknowledges needed to be done.
Still, the two men see things a bit differently, Erik Fleming said.
``Dad's in his shop clothes right now working on a fixture,'' he said. ``Dad's a riverboat gambler when it comes to business. I like calculated risk, budgeting and planning.''
Sometimes the differing viewpoint between father and son is so great they no longer can work together. In fact many family-owned businesses can be destroyed by autocratic founders and sibling rivalries, said Ivan Lansberg, a family business consultant in New Haven, Conn.
Some families find a solution that allows their differences to work for them. That is what the Brewer family did. Chuck Brewer Jr. left the company he started 20 years ago in Anaheim, Calif., after he and his sons, Michael and Chuck III, came to an impasse on what direction the company should take.
Michael Brewer and Chuck Brewer III now run C. Brewer Co., and Chuck Brewer Jr. purchased a small molding facility he calls Brewer Irvine, down the road in Irvine, Calif. He opted out of C. Brewer in favor of starting another business in order to operate things his own way.
``There are only two ways of doing things in my dad's eyes,'' said Michael Brewer. ``His way and the wrong way.''
Although they have their differences, they now are working together as a family group, but with two different strategies.
``The boys are looking for high-volume, multinational companies,'' said Chuck Brewer Jr. ``I'm looking for low-volume work with customers I can develop close, personal relationships with.''
Several fathers and sons interviewed for this story cited business growth and the direction a company should take as the main areas of conflict.
Growing the business created conflict between Ed Klouda and his son Roger, who now runs MSI Moldbuilders Inc. a company his father started 23 years ago, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
``Why do you want to get any bigger?'' Roger Klouda said his father would ask. ``Or he'd say he didn't think this or that was a good idea.''
Klouda said he believes that growth threatened his dad's ability to control it all. ``Being able to get his arms around everything was important to him.''
Growing up in the family business does not always ensure that the children will want to be a part of it when they reach adulthood. For some, the decision to come into the family business was not an easy one.
Although Roger Klouda now runs the day-to-day operations at MSI Moldbuilders, he never had ambitions to be part of the family business. ``And I never wanted to work for my dad,'' Klouda said. ``With him, maybe, but never for him.''
Klouda went out on his own after leaving home and started a service business in Chicago. His father used to call him three or four times a year and beg him tocome home and help him run the business, he said. Finally, Klouda relented and joined his father, making a two-year commitment.
``If I didn't like it after two years, I figured I'd walk,'' he said. That was 18 years ago.
Today the elder Klouda is retired and no longer active in the day-to-day affairs of the company, comfortable that his son is handling things just fine.
``I just gave dad's office away to our new general manager, but he doesn't know that yet,'' he said.
All four Brewer boys grew up at C. Brewer doing every job imaginable at the mold making and custom molding facility in Anaheim, Calif., but only Chuck Brewer III and Michael Brewer remain involved. It was the one place the boys could count on seeing their father. In fact, Michael Brewer calls C. Brewer Co. the firstborn son.
``Building a business is very demanding and time consuming. It was like having a fifth sibling,'' Brewer said, admitting that he and his brothers felt some rivalry with the company.
``There's a cost associated with building a business,'' he said. ``Something suffers in your personal life when you build a business from zero to where it is today. The second or third generation never has to suffer the way the founding fathers do.''
Unlike the Brewers, all four sons of Kenneth Harris work in the family business which, like the Brewers, consists of two companies. The brothers operate custom former Thermoformed Products Inc. while their father continues to run the company that manufactures a proprietary line of fishing boats, KL Industries. Both firms are in Muskegon, Mich.
David Harris said all four brothers share the responsibility for TPI, with each working in a different area according to their skills and educational background. All four brothers and their father have college educations.
They operate the firm in a democratic manner in which the majority rules. However, the brothers still take all major decisions to their father to get his input and take advantage of his experience, something Harris said is a valuable asset.
``We try to be open-minded and listen to our father,'' said Harris. ``But he's open-minded and listens to our ideas, too.''
One recent survey of 3,000 companies conducted by Arthur Andersen & Co. of Chicago, Kennesaw State College in Marietta, Ga., and Loyola University in Chicago, showed that one-third of family-business owners are 61 or older.
Cal-Mold's Ed Fleming is 61 with a goal of retiring at age 65, and he wants his son to succeed him. But Erik Fleming is not sure that continuing in the family business is his calling and plans to take a one-year sabbatical involving an around the world trip that will give him time to think about what he wants to do.
Ideally, Ed Fleming wishes his son would work outside the family business for a year or two to broaden his base of knowledge in a practical sense. Still, Fleming wonders what he would do with the family business if his son finds something he likes better than the plastics industry.
``I want him to go and get other experience, but I want him in the company tomorrow, too,'' Fleming said. ``It's a real dilemma.''
Another issue for family-owned businesses arises when there is more than one child involved who want to become president.
``We recognized that there's not enough room for four brothers here,'' said Michael Brewer. ``There'd always been an understanding that Chuck III and I would one day take over the company, but it became a big issue to my father which one of us would be president. A much bigger issue to him than to either of us.''
The brothers settled the matter and today each has a different role in the business. Michael Brewer is the general manager and handles operations. Chuck Brewer III is the director of marketing and sales. In between their offices is a conference room - the vice presidents' office - where they go to discuss matters of company business.
In that room they share equally in the responsibility and authority.
``That room's a level playing field,'' said Michael Brewer.
``The real challenge of a family business is taking the family out of the business,'' he said.
``I have to commend the boys for the job they're doing there,'' said Chuck Brewer Jr. of his sons at C. Brewer. ``We do the same thing, we just go at it differently.''