Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business:
I have been blessed beyond measure to be part of a family business–Diamond Wire Spring Company–that has been in operation since 1939. While I feel tremendously privileged, that’s not to say it’s a picnic every day. Henry Hutcheson accounts for both the good and the not-so-good of running a family business in his illuminating book “Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business: Ensuring Success from One Generation to the Next.”
When my father unexpectedly suffered a heart attack, in the days before he died, he told my mother to sell the family company. My mother, age 40 and with seven small children at home, told him she had watched him work too hard to sell it. Undeterred, she grew the company in the predominantly male-dominated spring industry of Pittsburgh. After her death, the helm was taken over by my brothers and has since continued to flourish. The oldest daughter of seven children, I came to the business late. But I’ve watched our family business bounce along a road that, while not without its bumps, is well worth the journey.
Hutcheson’s book offers the experiences of his family business, the well-known Olan Mills photography studio, as a poignant echo of what I believe many family businesses undergo. Hutcheson stresses that trust and communication are the vital factors that ensure a family business remains efficient and productive.
“Dirty Little Secrets of Family Business” resonates precisely because Hutcheson knows the ins and outs so well, and boils them down to easily digestible tidbits that ring with the truth of not-so-common sense, which he calls “dirty little secrets.” Hutcheson warns against the No. 1 hindrance to the long-term success of a family business: the sense of entitlement. He counsels, “To start preparing your children for the top position, they must spend time at the bottom.” It is easy to fall into that trap when a family member develops the expectation of respect or privilege beyond their skills, knowledge and experience.
From avoiding business discussions at the family dinner table to deciding who is going to run a board meeting, Hutcheson’s pearls of wisdom share how his family business has been able to thrive in these complicated times, while maintaining the vision and integrity his grandfather intended.
I particularly appreciated the book’s discussion of women in business. I didn’t enter the family business until my children were in college. In the early days, there really wasn’t a spot for me, and I was busy raising my children. When I did join Diamond Wire, my “formal training” consisted of “here is a directory of manufacturing companies, find out who uses springs and go visit them!” Thankfully, the times have changed and family businesses that adapt find continued success.
This book illustrates the strengths that have made our business successful over the last 78 years. There is much in Hutcheson’s straightforward approach to help any family business grow and prosper. It does takes hard work; not every day is a picnic (especially if deliveries are late and customers are putting on the pressure!). Still, I couldn’t be more honored to have grown up in a family business. In the end, it is worth it because, just like the song says, “We are Family!”
Review by Nina Fazio-Williams, sales manager, Diamond Wire Spring. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Co-written by Katherine Williams. Featured in Springs Magazine.