2004 Fall/Winter Volume No. 4
A Son’s Perspective
Northeastern Area Manager
Ray Luden worked in his father’s portable sanitation business for almost 20 years before coming to work for PolyJohn. As he explains, there’s both the good and the bad when you work for your dad.
A Son’s Perspective
To people who have never done it, working within the family business as the second generation sounds like an easy proposition. Even my sisters, who saw us regularly, but never actually worked for the family business (well, one did for 12 days), thought I had it easier than they did. After all, they had to make their own way in life. All I had to do was follow my dad. Right?
No. Nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. And helping to build a family business is a tough road with long hours and many complications.
Nothing is ever as simple as it sounds
My dad started the portable toilet business with nine fiberglass units, a very old pump truck, and one employee—me. The truck’s engine blew on the second excursion and so we spent the rest of that summer hauling units back to the yard to be cleaned and serviced.
I worked for my dad in this business and in his other business, a paving company, for an hourly wage. I worked at a restaurant at night to make ends meet.
After 15 years as an hourly employee, I began to realize that my role in the family business was my career and that I had better be more serious about it. That’s when I negotiated with my dad to go on salary. Being on salary of course, I got paid for 55 hours and worked 90.
My dad is the model entrepreneur—a guy who, if he wants to accomplish something, will just go out there and do it. And, he’ll make sure it is done right the first time. But, typical of people who make it on their own, he is not a team player per se and has never delegated well. He doesn’t ask people to do things—he orders it done. And when it comes to making decisions, he makes them.
It was fine working with him when I was younger because I expected my father to make the decisions. However, as I got older I naturally wanted to make decisions on my own.
I always tried to get him to delegate more. But letting go of something is hard for him.
I learned an awful lot from my dad and am like him in many ways. I know how to get things done and accomplish my goals. I’m not afraid of long hours, and I won’t tolerate anything but the highest quality in the work I do and from the people I manage.
However, always being second in command, I learned a different way to manage people. I’m a “we” person. I was always trying to assure my team that anything I would ask them to do, I had already done myself a hundred times over. I didn’t want them to ever think that I had it made because I was the owner’s son. I led my crews by working harder than they did and encouraging them to keep up.
In hindsight, my dad and I were an excellent team. And we sure were successful. We formed a kind of “good cop/bad cop” team. He would enforce a tight discipline in our company and I would smooth out hurt feelings and try to keep morale high. The company we built was a model of efficiency and quality service. He became a well-respected leader in the portable sanitation industry and served as president of the PSAI.
I am very proud of my dad and I know that he is proud of me, however, we still have a few issues that all come back to communication.
When I reached my mid 30s and had a family of my own to support, I began to wonder about my future with the company. The portable sanitation business was the only thing I knew. And if my dad decided to sell the company in order to retire, what would happen to me and my family?
Despite my concerns, it was a hard subject to bring up and my dad and I never really got around to talking about it.
At that time, I was offered a very good opportunity with PolyJohn and I accepted. Today I manage sales in 15 states and have a wonderful future with this company.
My dad sold his company three years after I left and today is enjoying a very comfortable retirement. We see each other frequently and still occasionally do paving jobs together as special favors for old customers.
Could I have continued to grow Farnham Sanitation Services—A Luden Company and supported my dad in his retirement? Could I today be building a company to pass on to my children? We’ll never know the answer to these questions because my dad and I never communicated well enough to plan it out.
I am very proud of my dad and I know that
he is proud of me.
However, as a business coach for many of my PolyJohn customers, I make it a point to talk to both generations in business. I encourage them to communicate and plan together for the future.
My dad and I are both very happy and successful. We enjoy getting together, probably more now than when we worked together. We’ve both come a long way from nine units and a broken down truck.
And while I have few regrets for the choices we made, there is one—the Luden name isn’t on the door anymore.
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