Q&A: Family Businesses

March 6, 2019

What brought you into Tropical full-time? Why did you want to work with your family?

Angela Bauer: I was the youngest so it was a different experience for me and I never felt any pressure to join the company. My parents were trying to do succession planning and figure out their next steps. John and I were both recent MBA grads and he was actually at Tropical first. I was working in technology at the time and gummy bears are definitely more fun than engineers:)

John Bauer: Angela’s parents were deciding what to do with their business as they approached retirement age. At the same time, Angela and I had finished MBA programs. We recognized the opportunity of working for ourselves and the fact that this was a good company. Helping grow the family business was exciting to us.

Carolyn Bennett: My parents needed my help in the retail store during the Christmas season.  What was supposed to be a temporary job until I got a “real” job turned into my 35 year career at Tropical. Working with family has been the best part of working at Tropical.

 

As a successor in the family business, do you feel like an entrepreneur? If yes, how do you manage to bring your entrepreneurial vision into the family business?

Angela: I think entrepreneur can be an overused term. You always have to keep reinventing yourself as change is happening faster and faster. Each generation has to make their own mark and add their twist to it. Personally, I come from more of a sales/marketing mindset so I am always open to trying out new things and thinking innovatively.

John: Yes, there was an entrepreneurial spirit because we were growing so fast. The first big move I made as President was opening the DC location. Then Dallas. Then buying the Orlando office. Finally, Truly Good Foods was an idea I always wanted to do – taking the brand nationwide.

Carolyn: I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur since my parents started the business, however, I do feel that I have contributed to the success of the company by following my parents  goal of quality product, excellent customer service and vision for new and creative mixes.

 

Family-owned businesses can be as unique and distinctive as the families that own them. How is being family-owned an advantage and set you apart from competitors?

Angela: Working together with family is fun.  You get to do stuff and build things together which has really been cool. We typically have a short-hand language and know where people are coming from with a trust level built in. You care a lot more when you own a family owned business- you have to take accountability.

John: Everything they say about family businesses is true. Lots of good things while dealing with the family issues. We may disagree at times, but at the end of the discussions we agree to a united front for the best of the company and also the family. You can work extra hard for the good of your family.

Carolyn: Being family owned is an advantage in that you have many people engaged for the same purpose and success of the company.  You know each other’s strengths and apply that to the area of the company that works best.  We have an advantage over competition because we have a lot of years’ experience between or family members as well as many of our long term employees who are “family” as well.

 

What was the biggest business lesson the founders of Tropical Foods taught you?

Angela: Customer is King.  My Dad would also always say – What does this have to do with peanuts? Focus on yourself and your products, don’t get distracted by competitors or outside influences.

John: Stay forward and find a way.

Carolyn: Keep it simple.  Excellent quality, customer service and a fair price will separate you from the competition.

 

When you transitioned into ownership, were there things that you thought you could accomplish really quickly that you learned wouldn’t be possible? What did those experiences teach you?

Angela: The simplest things can be ignored. You see what should be done, but there’s no time to do it and bigger things take priority.

John: The finance side of the business are lessons to be learned and can temper big ideas. It’s a balance you need to learn.

Carolyn: I was so busy just working, that I did not have any new goals I was working towards.  Business was booming, so maintaining the same level of service and quality that we had when we were small was paramount as we grew.  We realized that just growing our sales was not enough without the proper support of locations and employees. Growing to a nationwide company took many years, but it was the correct way to go about it.

 

Working with family can lend its own difficulties. How do you deal with conflicts?

Angela: We’re not a very confrontational family. You learn to state your mind, but choose your battles. I can get another job, but I can’t get another family. You tend to be more lenient with family too since you know them better.

John: We know we have to get along. Sometimes its 2 vs 1 and not always the same 2. Angela and Carolyn are the owners – however they have never played that card when the 3 of us have a difficult decision to make.

Carolyn: We don’t always agree in the manner of which we do things, but we do agree on what is right for the company, our customers and our employees and follow that path.

 

 

What are your goals to leave your mark on the family business?

Angela: My goal is to grow the company in sales dollars. That has always been the measurement for success along with profitability.

John: My goals as President for 19 years were to keep the company profitable for the good of our employees and family. Have a zen place to spend working hours. Now, as COO my goals are to have Tropical be strong operationally. We need to be strong in regards to food safety and get better with our use of analytics to grade ourselves.

Carolyn: My goal is that my parent’s original plan is ingrained in our company and employees and they always make decisions with that in mind.  The customer is King and don’t mess with quality and cheapen your product for the sacrifice of profit.

 

 

What is your advice for the next generation who are getting ready to join their family business? 

Angela: They don’t need pressure to go into the business, it should be their decision if they are interested in the family business.

John: They should work elsewhere for 5 years and then decide if they want to work here. They should have gained experience and knowledge that helps Tropical. They need to help us – not vice versa. We have told our kids they are neither required nor entitled to work at Tropical. We shall see what happens.

Carolyn: I would advise them to speak less and listen more.  There are many years of experience that has brought the company to where it is.  They can learn from mistakes we have made and successes we have had and apply their own strengths to the company to make it even more successful.

Tags: angela bauer, carolyn bennett, family business, interview, john bauer, q&a

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