In family businesses, legacy isn’t built overnight. It’s scaffolded through generations of stewards who uphold and transcend the values of their families and businesses.
Architects of Legacy is a series profiling West Michigan family business leaders brought to you in partnership between Family Business Alliance and Memory Lane Jane.
What was your first job?
My first job was at our family business. I started in the summer before eighth grade doing any dirty work that needed to be done. I cut pipe; I helped maintain equipment; I swabbed the floors.
How did you become involved in your family’s business?
I was always interested in what my dad was doing. He started the company when I was 7 years old. I remember helping him out in the side yard, putting pipe together for a well point header. Mom ran the office out of our basement, so I helped her with various tasks. Our home phone number was also our business number, so, even as a young girl, I was screening and answering phone calls.
When I went off to school at Aquinas, I had the intention of coming back to our family business. I double-majored in business administration and environmental studies. After graduation, I became the payroll tech in the office.
What was most challenging about stepping into the leadership role of your family business?
My leadership role happened after an unplanned transition period. Essentially, I was thrust into the job without a plan in place. I had to make decisions very quickly because my family, my team, and our customers were relying on me. I couldn’t let them down.
What was most exciting ?
The exciting part came later in exploring what I could actually do with the opportunity in front of me—all the work, research, and learning to be done. The whole journey has been exciting. I have some awesome employees, which makes all the difference. At the 10-year mark, I felt like I could finally stop, take a breath, and reflect on everything we’d accomplished.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women working to find and build their voice in a family business?
Be curious and willing to learn. Do your research; trust your strengths. You have something great to offer. Do it scared, then find the courage to lead. (It’s a lot easier than said than done, but you can do it.)
What leadership lessons have you learned from the previous generation that you rely on today?
I learned the value of grit and hard work from my parents. When times get tough, we roll up our sleeves and we go to work. That’s what we’ve always done. We figure it out. My parents are the hardest workers I know.
How do you keep your family business’ story and legacy alive?
We tell a lot of stories, even amongst our team and crew at work. I think we keep the legacy of our family business alive by reminiscing. A lot of our long-standing employees have stories that go all the way back to the very beginning. Even at our company parties, we like to get together and laugh about some of the things that have happened through the years. Storytelling is part of our personal family history, as well—that’s how we keep the memory alive of family members who have since passed.
What makes you most proud of your family business?
I’m so proud of the growth I’ve seen across my entire team. I absolutely love being a part of a team; we are so much more than just a sum of our parts. I think it’s so special to see what incredible things a group of people can do when they come together.
What book is on your nightstand?
“The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek—it’s a great book that discusses business as an infinite, rather than finite, game. In a finite game, there’s a score and a winner. An infinite game is perpetuated over time; you’re making long-term decisions for the infinite game. The book talks about caring for employees over the numbers on your financials, which is an aspect that resonates with me. Our people are the most important part of our organization because, without them, we aren’t anything.
What is bringing you joy right now?
I love watching my adult children blossom into wonderful people. I have a 15-month-old granddaughter who brings pure joy into all of our lives.
About Contract Dewatering Services
Contract Dewatering Services uses drilling and pumping methods to lower the groundwater temporarily for underground construction. We work anywhere that construction underground takes place below the natural groundwater table so that construction can move forward. CDS primarily serves the expanded Midwest—the middle states of the U.S.
Interview Completed By Memory Lane Jane
Memory Lane Jane partners with individuals, families, and family-owned businesses to preserve their history and legacy in commemorative heirloom books.