Stephen Shuford, a 1997 Kenan Flagler alum, knows the unique advantages and challenges of leading a family enterprise. Shuford is a fifth generation leader at Shurtape Technologies, a company born of his family’s Shuford Mills enterprise.
When Shuford entered his family business in 1997, he faced the challenge of “getting out of the box.” Shurtape Technologies, a designer and producer of tapes, like the popular Duck Tape brand (check out the hilarious Duck Tape YouTube video commercial he shared with the class), grew out of a North Carolina mill company, but today competes with large multi-national companies. Shuford, in striving to lessen both operational and investor risk at Shurtape, learned several lessons about successfully operating and growing a family enterprise.
One of the first things Shuford realized was the importance of leveraging family reputation. By capitalizing on the trust that comes with family leadership, a family enterprise can develop strong relationships with both vendors and partners. Shuford saw this advantage when a company came to Shurtape with a new product, rather than approaching a large multi-national competitor.
The second major lesson Shuford learned was that the company’s focus should be on their most promising opportunity. In family enterprises, where emotional ties to certain projects or strategies run deep, leaders must remain objective. Opportunity costs can be substantial and sound business decisions must not be sacrificed for legacy businesses that no longer make sense.
Shuford also shared his belief that family businesses should consider diversifying capital sources. Non-bank capital, though it comes at a cost, can be a foundation for long term growth. Banks can fail so relationships with several banks are necessary. Today, Shurtape has relationships with several banks and with other sources of long-term capital.
Finally, Shuford commented on the relational aspect of a family enterprise. Shuford recommends using consulting services to work through vision and management style differences. He believes in the importance of third party resources and their ability to advise when familial variations are causing strife. Shuford also sees the importance of the family management sharing long term vision. Family leaders must put long term goals on the table and work from there.
Over the last fifteen years, Shuford has succeeded in diversifying Shurtape Technologies in regards to market share, investor risk, and geography. Shuford believes that what you are today does not define what you will be tomorrow. This dynamic approach to family business has transformed Shurtape into the fast-growing business it is today.