Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Guest view: Lessons for sustaining family-owned business

When a family business thrives under second-generation ownership, the secret to success is in the foundation laid by the first generation.

My recruiting and staffing firm, Abel Personnel, carries the name of my father, Franklin Abel, who co-founded it as Abel-McConnell Personnel in 1969. In those days, women interviewed for “women’s jobs,” so they hired my mother, Dottie Abel, to help for two weeks. She stayed for 18 years and continues to have an advisory role.

My dad passed away in December 2018, just shy of Abel Personnel’s 50th anniversary. In the months since his passing, I’ve had time to think about the legacy of integrity that he and my mom created. They taught me seven lessons from yesterday for navigating the business climate of today.

Lesson One:  Ethics before profits

Create an environment where nobody checks their ethics at the door. Never allow anyone to feel pressured to make a decision that’s not in the best interests of the client. Chasing quotas doesn’t foster long-lasting relationships. Talk to your employees, get to know them, and always reinforce a company culture of support and responsibility.

Lesson Two: Hire based on a strong work ethic instead of specific experience

I can teach the skills we need, but work ethic, positive attitude, strong communications and empathy are innate. I look for diversity of experience, rarely hiring people who work for other staffing firms. I want team members who understand business from a wide range of perspectives.

Lesson Three: Understand financials

This might seem self-evident, but when a business passes from one generation to the next, the financial foundation must be solid. What you learn in college is just the start. You need to know your company. My dad taught me about accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, and all the fundamentals that assure a business can turn on the lights and pay its people, week in and week out.

Lesson Four: Take a genuine interest in people

My dad would strike up conversations in airports and restaurants as naturally as breathing. With that example before me, I pushed myself to establish connections with strangers and deepen ties to acquaintances. Along the way, I learned the value of building relationships from the ground up.

Lesson Five: Diversify

I was in business for 19 years when my parents asked me to join the firm as marketing manager. It meant breaking out of my shell and using the Yellow Pages – remember them? – as a tool for cultivating new clients. The work wasn’t suited to my personality at the time, but I persisted because my dad stressed the need to diversify. We had a fabulous relationship with a client who provided the bulk of our revenue, but he reminded us they could vanish at any time. My job was to help the business prepare for that day.

Lesson Six: Deliver excellence

In my business, we work with clients, organizations with staffing and recruiting needs, and candidates – the people we find to fill those jobs. Good service requires staying attentive to the needs of all. My parents taught me not to think about just getting the deal done, but always considering what was right for the client, candidate and company. In our case, that means taking the time and effort to ensure you’re sending the right job candidate.

Lesson Seven: Lead by example

Never expect employees to do something you won’t do yourself. Make a call. Pick up trash. Plunge the toilet. Anything that contributes to a functioning workplace deserves your attention. My parents never expressed this belief in words. They taught it by example.

Final thoughts

Together, these lessons boil down to what I call the “employer-employee mentality.” In a healthy relationship, each side supports the goals of the other. Employees who perform with distinction deserve rewards and recognition for advancing the company’s mission.

When employers invest the time to create a positive, supportive and ethically-grounded environment that never loses sight of their clients’ needs, the outcome is a successful business that can bridge the generations and meet the challenges of our modern, evolving economy.

Deborah A. Abel (Photo: Amy Spangler)

Deborah A. Abel (Photo: Amy Spangler)

Deborah A. Abel is president of Abel Personnel, which includes Abel Executives and A+ Teachers, which provides and supports qualified substitute teachers, school nurses and classroom aides for Central Pennsylvania school districts. She can be reached at 717-561-2222 or [email protected]

Business Events

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

Health Care Heroes

Tuesday, April 04, 2023
Health Care Heroes

Nonprofit Innovation Awards

Thursday, May 18, 2023
Nonprofit Innovation Awards

Women of Influence

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Women of Influence