Changing of the Guard in the Family Business

By Ken Weber on June 11th, 2015 / Comments

I grew up working for my parents at Weber’s, our family restaurant and hotel, taking orders from them both on the job as an employee and at home as a son. Overtime, decades actually, I assumed more authority and they assumed less.  Passing down the family torch or just working together day-to-day is not always easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

By no means do I claim to be an expert on business succession; I must preface that I don’t possess the knowledge of companies that focus on succession planning.  What I have is my own family’s experience launching a business, growing it and passing it down generations. Proudly, Weber’s has been a landmark destination in the fashionable city of Ann Arbor for 77 years and our family still works together, celebrates holidays together and even often plays together.

My father, Herman Weber, founded the restaurant in 1937 and grew and expanded the small American style restaurant into the modern destination that stands today with two major dining rooms, banquet rooms, 158 boutique-style hotels and suites, Four Seasons pool, outdoor terrace, a lounge and seven nights a week of live entertainment. He was involved in the business operations until his passing last year at age 100.

I’ve been president of Weber’s for years with one son now serving as vice president of food and beverage and a second son joining the ranks later this year. We realized early in our venture there is a very delicate, but important balance between thinking of the individual family member involved in the business and the long-term success of the company.

At a young age I recognized that home and work are two different things. Growing up, my father and I agreed to disagree. I knew he was the boss and that having an opinion at times could be futile. The frustration can come because dad is also your boss.  Yet in the end, he’s not your employer, he’s your dad. Experience taught us that if things are said wrong to each other at work, it can make home life difficult. We didn’t outwardly discuss this because with his generation there was a learned and unspoken code of how things were.

With my own kids, as a father there are some logical repercussions relating to them from decisions made on the job as president of the company. I have always told my sons there could be issues when they work together as a natural competitiveness often occurs between siblings. If one is promoted over another, that could raise tension. However since their teens they have discussed this, knowing each sibling will have a focus area of expertise and authority over the other one in certain areas. There are some rules we always adhere to. We don’t hire other relatives, for example. My wife isn’t involved in the business.

Still often times, there is a polar opposite of opinion between one generation and the next. There’s creativity in the youth and the elders may try to impede that as they age.

For example my father’s whole career was about modernization and reinvesting in the business. He was an active risk taker for most of his life and that is why Weber’s has been successful for more than a half century in a town where restaurants come and go. Yet that daring attitude changed when he was 85. His mind changed. He did not see the value of certain aspects such as during the $2.5 million expansion of Weber’s, he didn’t agree with tearing apart the lobby and of replacing marble desks with something more modern. I had to respect his opinion, but as president I had to push to get certain things done for the betterment of the company. Eventually he saw the changes and said it was something we should have done years ago. Dad taught me how to run a business, and he also taught me share it with my own sons and that someday I too will have to let go and trust their knowledge and own innovations.

Ken Weber is President of Weber’s, a restaurant and boutique hotel merging traditional architecture and hospitality with contemporary style. For more info visit: www.webersinn.com

 

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Ken Weber