King Milling Company: 5th Generation and Forward
In 1900 Thomas F. Doyle bought into King Milling Company, a move that would change the trajectory of his family for generations to come. Today, his great-grandsons are running the business and the fifth generation is coming on board.
We recently talked with Brian Doyle, fourth generation and president of King Milling Company to understand what family business means to him.
FBA: King Milling Company has been part of your family for well over 100 years. What’s it like growing up with this kind of legacy?
Brian: To be honest, we didn’t know anything different. Dad worked at the mill and when we were old enough, we did too.
At one point, I had considered joining the Navy. It was just after the Vietnam War and I ultimately decided against it. Instead, I studied milling science at Kansas State University—10 people in our family have gone there or are currently enrolled. It’s almost as much a part of being a Doyle as the business.
FBA: What’s the experience been like engaging the 5th generation in the business?
Brian: Two of my kids are now on board. Just like us, generation five worked at the mill as they were growing up. It’s a good fit for some—they show interest, work hard and enjoy it. It’s not the right fit for everyone. I have a daughter who’s a lawyer and another studying to be a veterinarian. We try not to pressure anyone to stay in the business—it’s their life and they should choose.
FBA: What is the most rewarding part of your family business?
Brian: The most rewarding part is growing the business. Ours was one of the first mills to be pneumatic and also one of the first to become fully automated. It’s allowed us to mill other types of wheat and monitor it tightly.
I also like the family interaction. My cousins and business partners, Jim and Steve, and I talk every single day. We’re careful to leave business at the mill and don’t talk shop when we’re at home or at family get-togethers.
FBA: Did you get pushback from your dad when it came to adopting new technology?
Brian: Not at all. We have a history of being open to technology, especially if it improves our efficiency. When we moved to automation, my dad had just had a heart attack. He stepped back and let us run with it. We always come to a consensus. Usually, Jim and Steve push me.
FBA: What about the family business keeps you up at night?
Brian: It’s the unknowns. We can have good systems and monitor quality, but the unknowns are worrisome. If someone misuses a product and gets ill or something, things can get out of hand quickly and the company is portrayed as the bad guy.
I worry very little about the next generation of the business. If anything, I have even more confidence in them to do things better than we do.
FBA: What would your grandfather or great-grandfather think of what you’ve achieved?
Brian: They wouldn’t recognize this place. My grandpa built a state-of-the-art concrete mill in 1945 and passed away suddenly the week after it was finished. I know they’d be pleased with what we’ve done and I like to think they are smiling down at us.
FBA Note: To give you some context for how the milling industry has evolved, consider this information from the King Milling website:
Today’s mill can produce the 1931 daily (24-hour) capacity in about an hour and a half. It is also interesting to note that in the year 1890 there were 700 flour mills in the State of Michigan. The number of mills dropped to 534 in the year 1900 and in 1958, the number dropped to 28. Today, there are only 6 flour mills remaining in our state.
By FBA Team