Nobody blinks an eye when a parent hands off the family business to an aspiring son. It’s far less common to see a parent grooming his or her daughter to inherit the business. But we’ve found not one but several successful family-owned businesses with parents at the helm who are working side-by-side with their daughters and planning to pass them the baton.
From an early age, these daughters were exposed to the business almost through osmosis—at the dinner table, during early-morning jogs, on family vacations to business-trip destinations. Their parents nurtured their interest in the business, sometimes encouraging them to explore outside opportunities, then welcoming them back to the nest when they were ready to jump in with both feet.
Here are four of their stories.
THE BROCKS: STANLEY KORSHAK
Crawford Brock is extremely competitive, perhaps even obsessive, about managing his fashion temple, Stanley Korshak. That’s why the question of succession simultaneously absorbs and conflicts him.
“When do I give up the full reins—that’s a tough one,” says Brock, 59. “I’m still young, and I think I’m going to be here a long time, which means for sure another decade. I really don’t want to be sitting around in retirement.”
But Brock is a pragmatist, not to mention a devoted father, and he’s been grooming his three daughters from birth to embrace the luxury retail business.
“My sense is they need to want it, and I’m here to help,” he says. “I understand that it’s long hours, a lot of pressure, a lot of commitment.”
Brock progeny Leigh Friend, 29, Laura Chandler, 27, and Helen Brock, 25, all work full-time in the business—a 68,000-square-foot emporium of ultra high-end men’s and women’s clothing, accoutrements, and jewels at the Crescent in Dallas. Brock declines to disclose the store’s annual sales volume, but an industry source says it’s probably north of $40 million.
“Fun” is how the sisters most frequently describe their jobs. Did they always want to work in the store? “Being surrounded by all this? What girl wouldn’t?” says Leigh, who handles public relations for Stanley Korshak.
It might appear that the princesses are swan-ning about the castle. But they each hold bachelor’s degrees—Laura and Helen in business and finance, Leigh in nutrition—and they all started at the bottom in the mailroom, rotating through various departments in the store. Brock proudly asserts that they “are not arrogant types,” and “wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything they wouldn’t do.”
“We can gift-wrap; we can do everything,” says Laura. A math whiz, she analyzes budgets and tweaks inventory planning as assistant to general merchandise manager Rose Clark.
Helen, the youngest, has the broadest industry experience. Before joining the store in January 2012, she interned in New York with top fashion firms Brunello Cucinelli, Lela Rose, Naeem Khan, Ralph Lauren, and Manolo Blahnik. She also worked the sales floor at Mitchells and Richards in Greenwich, a store comparable to Korshak. Helen now buys knits, sweaters, and t-shirts for the Shak, Korshak’s contemporary boutique geared toward youthful clients.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s really fast-paced and I’m always on my toes. I’m learning a lot from the [Shak’s] head buyer, Shannon Moore.”
“We’re all in roles that suit our personalities and the way we tick,” Leigh notes. “I’m good with customers and people, and Laura is really strong with numbers. Helen has incredible taste and is an incredible seller, but she also understands the financial side. So we all bring something to the table. We each have a piece of [Brock] in us—Laura probably being the most like him, constantly thinking about the business and what we can do to improve.”
Brock, who bought the store from Caroline Rose Hunt in 2002 after managing it since 1987, cut his teeth in Neiman Marcus’ executive training program and in subsequent buying and management roles, where he learned to set far-range goals. Now he’s trying to instill a strong work ethic in his heirs.
He often reminds them that “hard work pays off because there are no shortcuts,” Helen says.
Leigh adds: “He has always advised us to be early because when you are early you are ‘on time,’ but when you are ‘on time’ you are late.”
Brock calls his daughters his “exit strategy.” But he’s also aware that nothing is certain, and he’s too gallant to pigeonhole them.
“If this is what they want, that’s great,” he says. “If 15 years from now they are raising kids and don’t want to do it and want to sell, there are lots of options.” — HOLLY HABER
THE BILLINGSLEYS: BILLINGSLEY CO.
Call it a defining moment or a twist of fate. Either way, it’s hard not to chuckle when you hear Lucy Burns’ response to the question posed in her first-grade yearbook: What do you want to be when you grow up?
“I said ‘a person in real estate,’ not realizing what that was,” the 33-year-old says. “It was something that I was aware of before I knew what that meant. That, or I just wasn’t very creative.”
It’s hard to imagine that the granddaughter of the legendary real estate developer Trammell Crow—and the daughter of Crow’s daughter Lucy Billingsley and her husband, Henry Billingsley—could pursue anything but a career in commercial real estate. Of the four Billingsley children, only Burns and her brother, George, work in the business. Burns manages Billingsley Co.’s 2 million-square-foot office portfolio, which includes International Business Park and the Arts Plaza campus in the Dallas Arts District. George is responsible for industrial-portfolio management, development, and financing.
Lucy Billingsley says she and Henry have put their children “into asset ownership from Day One,” giving them a “wonderful platform from which to start.”
“We’ve always been open about how things are organized, who’s got what, and why we’re doing it this way,” she says. “If you want to go into this business, you can. This is yours to be figured out at some point if you go into another business.”
Burns says she never felt pressure to work with her family, but expected she’d do something real estate-related. After a stint at Lehman Bros. in New York City, she pursued a master’s degree in real estate development. In 2006, she landed at The Ratkovich Co. in Los Angeles. Two years later she joined her parents at Billingsley.
“I’ve worked for other real estate development companies, and I’ve worked here,” she says of the 35-year-old Billingsley company, which has nearly 130 employees. “Both were great experiences. You learn a lot from both platforms, but one of the benefits of working with families or parents is you get to learn everything they know.”
Some families resolve disagreements by arguing or shouting at the office. The Billingsleys are a less emotional bunch, with a healthy dose of respect for each other. So those conversations are more candid than raucous.
“The problem is, I am frequently the one who gets outvoted and everyone is laughing hysterically when it happens,” says Lucy Billingsley, who admittedly prefers the “wild-hare” deals, while Henry is more conservative and Burns, more bullish.
Burns describes the office environment as didactic. And if she wants her parents’ opinion, she’ll ask for it.
“They’re never hovering around telling me how to do things, unless something is blatantly wrong,” she says. “I think that makes for a very easy family working environment, because no one wants to show up to work and have their mom telling them what to do all day.”
Billingsley, who declines to disclose the company’s annual revenue, takes the approach that young people are highly competent—and there’s nothing they can’t rise to the occasion for and then do.
“The exposure that our kids or others in this company get is really because we say ‘just do it,’” she says. “The important thing is, your career is where you get to have a platform in the world for creativity, self-expression ... and for making money. What’s the best platform you can create? I want my kids to have those platforms, but I want to have them, too. This is a situation where each of us can create that.”
The easygoing relationship between mother and daughter is evident as they share sweaters in their chilly Uptown office and discuss the imminent birth of Burns’ twins. They will soon need to make more space on Billingsley’s wall of black-and-white family photos.
Retirement may never fully come for Billingsley, 59, even when it’s around the corner. But she’s glad to have her daughter by her side.
“Daughters do need to be in the business,” she says. “It’s way too much fun to give this to the guys.” — KAREN NIELSEN
THE RAFFERTYS: IBB DESIGN
Beth Rafferty started her interior design business from her home 33 years ago, when her daughter Shay was just 2 years old. Rafferty’s first clients were attorneys and plastic surgeons who hired her to design their offices—and then their homes, vacation homes, planes, and RVs.
By the time Shay was 10, she was “going to market” with her mom at the Dallas Market Center and tossing in her two cents on projects. At age 13 Shay started her own linen business, which was later folded into the company.
“Shay is an only child, and when I was working out of the home, the business was always there,” Rafferty says. “She would see the projects I was working on and she would add her own interpretation.”
“I always hoped she would come into the business with me,” Rafferty adds, “but when she was in high school she said ‘No, you work too hard. That’s not what I want to do.’ ”
Geyer changed her mind after graduating from college in 2001, joining IBB Design Fine Furnishings as a professional interior designer. “My parents never forced me into it,” she says. “They always encouraged me to do my own thing. But it was home for me and where I was comfortable.”
Today the $20 million company is housed in a nine-year-old, 40,000-square-foot furniture store and design studio in Frisco. A total of 49 employees, including 26 designers, work under the IBB umbrella, which includes Sunrise Blinds, a blind and window-covering company started by Rafferty’s husband, Robert Rafferty, and a design office in Houston.
IBB offers a selection of designer name-brand home furnishings that can be purchased directly “off the floor.” It also provides design services, including in-home design consultations, space planning, and special-order furnishings for high-profile clients including CEOs, celebrities, and professional athletes in North Texas and across the country.
Rafferty and Geyer personally travel to locations such as Beaver Creek, Colo., and Bermuda to oversee design projects for their mostly referral clientele.Some clients prefer to pick out specialty items from the showroom, while others “don’t want anything to do with it,” Geyer says. “They just want it to be beautiful. There’s a lot of trust there.”
As marketing director, Geyer, 35, helps foster relationships and make connections in the community through her charity work and as the design expert for the last seven years on TV’s Good Morning Texas. Her technological savvy through the use of blogs and social media has helped the company garner national exposure. When IBB photographs a project with several brands in the shot, for example, Geyer alerts the brands’ public relations people.
“Working with the younger generation, you see the differences in their business connections and the way they do business through the Internet and social media,” Rafferty says. “Shay has brought that to the company. She’s brought in younger clients. It’s a giant asset to look at it through the younger generation’s point of view.”
Now in her early 60s, Rafferty doesn’t plan to retire for at least another decade. But she’s encouraging Geyer to learn the business side, including dealing with vendors and managing inventory online, so she can take over the business eventually.
“The main market is in High Point, [N.C.], and we usually take a team of 16 people,” Rafferty says. “This year, for the first time in 20 years, I didn’t go to market. Shay led the team and was in charge of the buying and getting everybody in the right place at the right time. I trust her completely.
“She’s very motivated,” Rafferty adds. “ I don’t have to tell her do this, do that. She’ll be the first one here and the last one to leave.”
Geyer, for her part, appreciates how her mother runs the business. She says Rafferty is fair, hands-on but not micromanaging, and treats employees like family with a focus on work-life balance.
“I’m really proud of the legacy my mom has created, so I hope I can live up to what she’s created,” Geyer says. “I’m excited to take over the business one day, and hopefully my daughters will want to work here as well.” — KAREN NIELSEN
THE FREEMANS: THE FREEMAN CO.
The lines between family and business have always been blurred for Carrie Freeman Parsons. She used to spend summers working at The Freeman Co., where members of the company’s management team were her uncles.
“Growing up in the business, what I liked the most were the people,” says Freeman Parsons, now vice chairman at the Dallas-based company.
Her father, Donald “Don” Freeman Jr., says her ability to communicate and connect with people is still her greatest strength.
“She’s a great communicator, much more than I am or have been,” he says. “As things change within the company, she’s the one you can call and talk to and provide the direction we’re going.”
The company’s business model has evolved since 1927, when Carrie’s grandfather, Donald “Buck” Freeman, began decorating for county fairs, state associations, and conventions. When her father took over leadership of the company in 1972, he focused on growing organically and then “Freemanizing” acquired companies. Over time The Freeman Co. became a worldwide provider of integrated services for trade shows, exhibitions, and other events.
Today, the privately held, $1.6 billion company with 4,500 employees is considered the largest exhibition contractor in North America, he says.
Don, 75, now serves as chairman of Freeman, leaving the company in the capable hands of his daughter and his son-in-law, Joe Popolo, who’s married to his other daughter, Chris Freeman Popolo.
“The most important thing a CEO needs to recognize is it’s his responsibility to find a successor,” says Don, who had been thinking about it for more than 15 years before retiring from his full-time duties in 2008. “We’re very fortunate. If we didn’t feel like Joe and Carrie were qualified, we would have gone in another direction.”
That’s not to say they haven’t earned their stripes. Freeman Parsons, 50, joined the company after graduating from Baylor University in 1985. She started as an account executive in Dallas, transferred to Nashville as general manager of the new office, and later became GM of the Boston office. She returned to Dallas as president of the Freeman Exhibit Co., and was promoted to chief marketing officer in 1998.
“I had to earn the respect and the opportunity,” she says. “There was such respect and admiration for my dad, and a lot of people gave me the benefit of the doubt. They wanted me to do well and help me succeed because they cared about the company.”
Don said his wife discouraged his girls from going into the business, because she didn’t want them standing on concrete floors on weekends and attending trade shows late at night.
“Part of the reason Carrie is so well-respected is, she did those things,” he says. “With anybody in this company, the people that have been successful have a strong work ethic.”
Popolo also invested the time, first joining the company in 1997 and working his way up to chief executive in 2008. The management shift to the third generation came at a good time, as technology began to transform the business.
“I’m glad we made the transition at the time we did,” Don says. “I would have had difficulty staying up with the programs.”
Freeman Parson says she worried her dad would “ride off into the sunset and we’d never see him again.” But he still comes to the office when he’s in town, and recently advised on a United Kingdom company acquisition that opened the door for international expansion.
Her father is “not second-guessing Joe and me,” she says. “There’s a lot of trust in that relationship.”
Another binding factor is an employee stock ownership program, which Don created in 1980.
“Our employees have ownership, and it’s always been an asset to operate as a family-owned company,” he says. “When we talk about the Freeman family, the ESOP is pretty critical in carrying that culture through the years.”
Adds Freeman Parsons: “When you go through a large transition and you’re not transparent about it, you’re not in a place where there’s a great deal of trust. We’ve been fortunate, so when we do need to make a seismic shift, we can foster that relationship.”