NACS Show Workshop: How to Tighten Family Ties

NOCO, MWS execs discuss ups and downs of family-run businesses

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

ATLANTA -- Family-run businesses operate by their own set of rules, and relationships exist on a much more permanent and deeper level. In a NACS Show educational session moderated by Jeff Miller, president of family-run Miller Oil Co., two retailers who have become leaders within their family’s businesses shared what factors ensured a happy work-life balance.

Katie Wagner, vice president of MWS Enterprises, which owns the Yellow Goose and Arrow Mart convenience store brands, grew up in the business, working nearly every position inside the store and headquarters. After graduating with a higher degree, “the last thing I wanted to do was work in the family business,” Wagner admitted. “But I missed the emotional attachment from the family business.”

From her standpoint, communication is absolutely essential for a healthy family-run business. “Communication needs to be a priority,” she said. She also recommended bringing in an outside mediator to solve any conflicts, and to keep family not in the business out of its drama.

Michael Newman, executive vice president of NOCO Express, a division of NOCO Energy Corp., now leads the company along with his brother. Their rules for a happy family-business dynamic:

  • Remember when you are family, and when you are a co-worker. Keep those roles separate.
  • Understand who is in and who is out of the business, and respect those decisions.
  • Have a clear definition of roles and accountability.
  • Agree that employment at the company is not a given for family members. “You have to prove yourself,” said Newman. “Success does not mean you are smart, and smarts does not mean success.”
  • Disagreements do not mean dysfunction. Differing opinions are healthy for the company.
  • Emotions and bullies are not allowed.

“We can all make a lot of money in this business,” said Wagner, “but what does it matter if you don’t have your family?”