What if your Dad is a bigger than life, Formula 4 European race car driver and the founder of your family business? Ted Wentz, UNC MBA 2008, had some big shoes to fill as he contemplated returning to his family business, Quadratec, a mail order company that provides parts and accessories for Jeep auto enthusiasts. Ted visited campus last week as a webinar guest and to address the last Family Business class of the year. He was forthright as he shared the experience of founding his own entrepreneurial venture, Firecraft, within his family’s enterprise.
Growing up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Ted did not have visions of joining his family’s business. He attended the University of Virginia, got a degree in International Affairs, and was part of the first Department of Homeland Security team created just after 9/11 in Washington, DC.
After several years of working for the government, Ted realized that he was drawn to the management aspects of his job. He decided to return for an MBA to pursue management and entered UNC’s Kenan-Flagler with plans to work in the auto industry.
He completed an internship with Toyota, and he received an offer of full-time employment during his second year at Kenan-Flagler.
But, Ted hesitated: Do I want to go to a big corporation and hope to have an impact eventually? Or, do I want to return to my family’s company, have the opportunity to apply my business school experiences immediately, and build something of my own? Ted started thinking about what he owed to Quadratec and the pride he took in what his family had built.
Ted decided to return home and work in a 2 year leadership rotation at Quadratec. From the beginning, he made it clear to all management that he was NOT coming back to take their jobs – he was at the company to learn, contribute, and then would be doing something on his own. He left MBA-speak, attitude, and big corner office dreams at the door and rolled up his sleeves to learn. He cheerfully packed boxes, answered customer phone calls and did whatever was required to learn every aspect of Quadratec. This was a very different experience from many of his classmates who reported large salaries and other executive perks soon after graduation.
When the 2 year rotation was complete, and after months of brainstorming with valued Quadratec executives, Ted founded a new division of Quadratec: FireCraft, a grill supply mail order company, in 2010. Ted chose to fund Firecraft with a personal loan, rather than securing funds from his family company. He put his own money at risk for the personal satisfaction of building Firecraft on his own. But, he readily admits that he has an advantage over most entrepreneurs: Firecraft shares facility, IT and warehouse costs with Quadratec.
Ted successfully has figured out how to return to his family business AND fulfill his goal of starting his own company. Important take-aways for next generation entrepreneurs who aspire to do the same:
- Be humble when entering your family business. Take time to get to know employees and let them get to know you. Communicate with them clearly about your role and their job security. Be aware of how certain perks like big offices, leaving early, etc. may appear to others.
- Learn the business. Take time to learn every aspect of the business – even the areas that do not interest you or seem particularly challenging.
- Treat family at work like fellow employees. Ted treats his dad like his boss, and they avoid family issues at the office.
- Communicate often with your spouse about the business, including the risks, time, and energy involved.
- Find your own sense of accomplishment.
Note: the Family Enterprise Center partners with the Center for International Business and Research (CIBER) in a webinar series. Ted’s participation was our second webinar, Entrepreneurship in the Next Generation. We hope you’ll enjoy listening to more of his insights here.