“It's a very satisfying thing to see them mature as businesspeople that are capable of performing at that level,” Strom said of his children.
Lambert is a certified public accountant, and is officially controller for the custom injection molder, but wears many hats at the company. John Strom, Lambert's older brother, works as internal project manager and fitting sales representative. The oldest in the family, Susan Strom, doesn't work in any official capacity for the company, but does marketing work for them from time to time.
Bob Strom is pulling back and allowing the kids to take the business.
“I'm hanging around simply because I don't want to retire,” he said. “As long as I can be of value, I'll stick around.
“I'm not a golfer, and I need some place to hang out,” he said with a laugh.
Going to work for Dad
The kids were never pressured to come to work at Olsen, and they were told not to show up to the company until they were 30 years old if they did. That was something Lambert took to heart. She got her CPA and started working on a contract basis for various clients.
“I kept landing at businesses that were in manufacturing,” she said. “And there were sons that were my age, and they were in the process of transitioning into leadership roles.”
She was helping with the succession plans for companies, and thought if there was time to start thinking about joining the family business, it was now. At the same time, her older brother John was already at work at Olsen, and Susan had worked in sales.
Lambert came on board doing accounting in 2007, and the role has expanded to include human resources functions and now operations.
“I remember him having conversations with my brother [about coming to work at Olsen],” Lambert said. “He always knew he was coming here. He always seemed to know that. I always knew that I would never be able to let it go. But I didn't necessarily plan to be here.”
The siblings weren't strangers to the company, however. They often spent summers working various jobs at the plant, including running a press, work in the front office and even janitorial work.
Lambert said she leans on her brother, and they often talk through tough business decisions on long walks both during lunch and some times on family trips to the lake.
While there's a family structure controlling the company, both Lambert and Bob Strom said the entire team is family. The company employees 36 full-time workers and six to 10 temporary workers.
“Like all small businesses, we know these people have car payments, we know they have house payments and we know that it's our responsibility to see that their life is going to be at a level where they're going to be satisfied when they're done,” Bob Strom said. “And we realize without these people, we're nothing.”
In a family business, the transition from one generation to the next can sometimes be tricky, but Lambert said her father has been an excellent teacher and has let her take the reins of the company.
“The thing I'll really credit my dad for is he's been very good about saying, ‘This is your store now, if you botch it up, it's your problem,'” Lambert said. “You are getting permission to make the decision you need to make, and move the company in the direction you need to move it. There are times when he'll step in and express his concerns. But I can't think of a time when he's like, ‘You need to do this.'”
For Bob Strom, he never wanted to pressure his kids into taking roles at the company, but he was happy when they did.
“You know, you put a lifetime into these things, and you want to see them continue,” he said. “On the surface I was saying, ‘No one was coming in.' But in my heart, I was trying to train these guys so they had careers or training that was going to allow them to add something to the company that I couldn't add.”
As for a third generation, Lambert has three boys, ages 7, 9 and 11. They are familiar faces around the company — often reminding their mother when they were younger that Grandpa could fire her any time he wanted. Lambert says she tries not to think about them potentially taking over the company 20 or more years down the road.
“I never want them to think they have to come here either,” she said. “But at other points, I look at them, and think, what are their strengths? Who would be the best one to come and do this?
“I try to instill in them that the people here are a gift that we're supposed to take care of. So if they were to come here, they would need to understand their responsibility to the people. And I hope whatever they decide, they understand that,” Lambert said.
Read an overview of family-owned businesses and find links to other profiles.