“Do you remember these businesses?” a trending post asks on Facebook as readers reminisce about popular South Florida mainstays that went the way of the dinosaurs. Sustaining a business for the long haul can be daunting, and the statistics for family businesses are not particularly optimistic. “About 30 percent of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation. Twelve percent will still be viable into the third generation, with only three percent of all family businesses operating at the fourth-generation level and beyond,” according to the Conway Center for Family Business.
Yet as South Florida has grown and matured, there are a number of family businesses that have developed this region and are leaving a legacy – some four or five generations long. They’ve beaten the odds. Now several sons of bosses, or SOBs as they jokingly call themselves, have founded Family Businesses of America (FBOA) to help family-owned businesses in Florida continue to thrive.
Begun about three years ago, the professional organization is now comprised of about 30 members who hold leadership positions in well-established family businesses, including some of the oldest companies in Broward.
Romney C. “Cam” Rogers, Jr., a fourth generation lawyer for Rogers, Morris & Ziegler, LLP, the oldest law firm in Broward County, explained how they got started. “I ran into Sam Eppy, insurance and investment adviser for the the Eppy Group, at an event and we hit it off. It was then that he invited me to join him and four other guys for dinner to discuss the possibility of starting a family business group. At that first dinner, we shared what we do, the different family dynamics involved in our businesses, and contemplated some ideas to bring some order to future meetings with the purpose of helping the next generation continue their family business and not become a statistic, because we were all familiar with the failing rates of multi-generational businesses.”
And Cam Rogers has some big shoes to fill. His great grandfather, Dwight L. Rogers, Sr., founded their firm in 1925, and was the first U.S. Congressman for this region. A plaque on the Las Olas bridge honors him as the first representative of this district. Cam’s great uncle, Paul Rogers, served 12 terms in Congress. Dwight Rogers, Jr. served as an assistant state attorney, and Cam’s father, Romney C. Rogers, managing partner, just completed his ninth year as a Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner. Romney and Cam are the only two Rogers still practicing at the firm; however, they have carried on the firm’s legacy of representing families and businesses with respect to estate planning and probate, real estate, banking and litigation.
“The give back is important,” said Romney Rogers. “There is a real need for what they are trying to do, which is to talk through, network, figure out all the bumps and bruises and how to address them in a family business.”
The importance of legacy
Cam Rogers confirmed, “My love and respect for the generations whose shoulders our law firm now stands on motivates my everyday decisions. Legacy is a common passion and theme shared among the members of the Family Businesses of America.”
Patrick C. Ryan, project superintendent for the Ryan Companies, understands. “I am the fifth generation of Ryans to be in the family business, which began in Janesville, Wisconsin. The third generation was my grandfather [Bill Ryan] and his two brothers. Between those three brothers there were 20 kids, so there were just a lot of Ryans in the business up there. My grandfather did a lot of mining down here with draglines and some Florida specific work that eventually became its own operation. So my grandfather came south and his brothers stayed north.”
The Ryan Companies is a heavy construction firm with extensive experience in all types of site development, mining and quarries. They also build golf courses. Patrick has been working for the company also most seven years. “Currently I oversee our quarry. We are contracted at Star Quarries out at South Bay to dig material out of the ground, process it and sell it. We make 15 different products. For example, if you are driving on the road, there’s 12 inches of FDOT certified lime rock beneath it. We make that,” Patrick explained.
While earning a business degree at the University of Central Florida, Patrick always had in the back of his mind that he would end up at the family business, but he said, “It wasn’t until I started working that I began to learn the realities of how hard my father has worked over the years and how hard my grandfather worked and the generations before us to build the business.”
But he added, “…to a lot of people you’re the boss’ son, and that, to be honest with you, can be isolating.”
William H. “Wills” Ryan, CEO of the Ryan Companies, affirmed, “I think any opportunity to share with peers in similar situations best practices and some of the nuances of being involved with a family business, that’s a profitable use of your time… Doing business today has become more complex, from the permitting to the environmental regulations to hiring people with a work ethic. Patrick is a quick study. He adapts. He’s taken on responsibility for things in the organization he’s had success with, so the burden for me is to have him exposed to all of the different facets of the business at the appropriate time when he steps into my role.”
A three-pronged approach
Family businesses of America focuses on three areas to help cultivate friendships with other future family business leaders and equip them with the necessary tools to navigate the sometimes challenging waters of working with family. They CONNECT, COLLABORATE and EDUCATE. “These three pillars help develop us into well-rounded family business leaders equipping us with loyal business relationships, lifelong friendships and wisdom that will carry us on for the rest of our careers,” said Ryan Zuckerman, a founding member of FBOA and a shareholder of Zuckerman Homes, premier home builders and real estate developers in South Florida for four generations, established in 1924.
At FBOA members CONNECT once a quarter to socialize and network.
COLLABORATION occurs during monthly meetings. After an ice breaker in which everyone shares their highs and lows for the month, one of the members presents to the group a business issue and a family issue with which they are contending. Presenters meet with a peer in advance to coordinate, and they provide the rest of the group the opportunity to ask questions and give their advice and feedback on the situation immediately following the presentation.
EDUCATION is provided during high-level roundtable discussions with experienced family business professionals, leading well-established family businesses. Speakers have include brothers Scott Moss, president, and Chad Moss, executive vice president, of Moss Construction, one of the largest privately held general contractors in Florida. And recently Andrew Koenig, vice president of City Furniture, toured them around the operation, which was founded in 1971 by his late uncle Kevin Koenig and his father Keith Koenig, the current president. Andrew expressed to the group that work ethic and innovation are very important components to excelling in a family business.
“Those are the caliber of local talent we have come in and give us advice, and it’s really an open conversation,” explained Robert W. “Bob” Lafferty, Jr., HY Stat manager for Hill York, who is the current FBOA president.
Bob Lafferty’s great grandfather, Robert S. Lafferty, Sr. was a pioneer in the air conditioning industry, designing and installing the first air conditioning systems in Miami Beach hotels after World War II. Founded in 1936, Hill York got its name from the two product lines they originally represented: Hill refrigerated casings and York flake ice machines. Today they are Florida’s leading commercial air conditioning and energy solutions company, recently recognized for their work on the Central Energy Plant at Nova Southeastern University, one of the largest thermal energy storage systems in the United States.
Heading up his own division, Bob Lafferty helped develop HY Stat, a smart thermostat system that monitors AC equipment, provides detailed analytics and proactively identifies issues, saving clients’ money due to improved energy efficiency. A relatively new technology, they are now licensing the platform to others across the country, and Bob Lafferty admits, “I’m very excited about where this could go. I’m learning a ton, and it’s fun because I get to build it with my dad.”
Unique obstacles to overcome
But as the son of a boss, Bob admits “there are a lot of eyes that are always watching… FBOA has helped me to grow myself in the business and helped me avoid issues with anyone else in the company.”
Hill York President and CEO Robert W. “Chip” Lafferty, said he had the benefit of collaborating with a small group of “heir apparents” through a national air conditioning organization and benefitted from observing their succession strategies when he was Bob’s age. “I got to see how some did it well and some didn’t do it well, and how my dad and I crafted a program for me to go through… It just keeps getting harder and harder over time as businesses get bigger and bigger for the next generation to try and take over.”
Running a family business can get personal. Gregg Wallick, president and CEO of Best Roofing, learned the trade from his dad and has given both of his sons leadership positions within the business. Wallick purchased Best Roofing, which was founded in 1978. Today Best Roofing has a fleet of 90 vehicles, employs 310 people and is one of the largest commercial roofing contractors in South Florida. While the company has grown tremendously in its 40-year history, Gregg admits, “We’ve had our challenges. Overall its been great, but it gets passionate!”
His son, Zack Wallick, senior vice president at Best Roofing, explained, “I would say some of the challenges for Ian and me are being able to see eye to eye and not letting the emotions get the best of me, taking time to see things from a different perspective. We both definitely want it to work.”
Ian Wallick, senior construction manager for Best Roofing, agrees, “We’re brothers, so we butt heads and we’ve got different personalities.”
Gregg chimed in, “Actually you have tremendously complementary personalities… As we’ve evolved as a team, my observation was that the other person’s weakness is your strength and vice versa. Zack is the outside sales, marketing, let me get the work in the door guy. Ian is the guy who is great with building crews, getting the work built out in the field and creating a culture of unity with people. Their gifts together are amazing.”
Working out leadership strategies and struggles among siblings are a few of the many topics discussed during monthly FBOA meetings. Others have included succession strategies, salary negotiation among family members, ownership in the business, treatment from other staff that may see you as holding the golden key or heir to the throne, discussions about being given appropriate responsibilities, a senior member having difficulty handing over the reins without really letting go, and how to connect with your family member personally outside of the business.
“I think the most unique thing is what my dad calls getting over the knucklehead syndrome,” said Cam Rogers. “You are your parent’s child and are always kind of known as that to your parent, and to grow out of that in the work place is sometimes challenging. I have found that pursuing excellence and going the extra mile will start to change that mentality and begin to garner more trust from my father in our business.”
Paying some dues is a common thread in family businesses. “I didn’t bring them in and put them in a nice office and pay them a big salary right out of the chute,” said Gregg. “They started out probably a little lower paid than I would pay someone else to prove to me they were committed.” And Gregg chuckled, “They were on the end of a shovel.”
“We grew up working summers and weekends, but we worked on the roof. We were here at 5 a.m. and you don’t come back till 5 p.m. and it was hot. So I thought I’d rather work in an ice cream shop,” said Ian. Eventually they learned the business from the roof to the office. “It’s a totally different perspective now that we’ve grown up together and seen a different side of the company. It’s not just roofing. Roofing is our product. Business is business.”
Business with purpose
And business is something these families do well. Hill York, which has created a culture of COMFORT Champions, was just named among the “Best Places To Work” by South Florida Business Journal. “It is a tribute to the special bond we all feel as a close-knit team that grows and prospers together,” said Chip Lafferty. “We’re proud that, for many who join Hill York, what starts out as a job becomes a career calling to be a Hill Yorker for life.”
Best Roofing has also developed a strong team mentality inspired by Gregg’s football days at the University of Miami, where he played, coached and was team captain. Just like bus rides to games, you’ll see their orange and black Best Roofing school bus, with their dog “Jake” the mascot on the side, transporting field workers to sites around South Florida. “Everyone must play their position. Our business model requires teamwork,” is one of the company’s published fundamentals all employees commit to memory. And Ian Wallick has been working with his dad to develop Best Roofing University, a systematic training program designed to carry forward best practices and maintain consistent levels of customer service company wide.
“We’re a large business with large business resources, but we have a small business mentality,” said Zack Wallick. Every year they host the breakfast of champions where the office staff cooks breakfast for the field guys and serves them. The also have a corporate chaplain on staff.
“I originally hired Albert Beltran of Corporate Chaplains of America in 2003 because I had a primarily Hispanic workforce that I couldn’t talk to. I brought Albert in to get connected with them and he has earned their trust,” said Gregg.
They also have a foundation called Best Cares set up through the National Christian Foundation to give a certain amount of the company profits to local charities. Beneficiaries have included Sheridan House Family Ministries, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where Gregg serves on the board, and Hope South Florida. Seven days a week they give what they call their “Jake Bus” to “Paws for a Cause” to pick up homeless people and take them to feeding ministries throughout the community organized by Hope South Florida.
“I think running a large local business, it’s important that you contribute back to the community,” said Zack.
“It’s a privilege,” Gregg confirmed.
That’s an ethic echoed by many family businesses and by the Ryan Companies as well. “My father has many organizations that are close to his heart, and giving to him is the goal,” said Patrick Ryan. “The more we do in business this year the more we can give. He and my mom both have set such a good example in that.” Wills Ryan has served on boards for a number of charities, and Judith Ryan has served on the board at Sheridan House Family Ministries as well as Hope Women’s Centers. They’ve also been active at First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs for many years. “And I hope for that to be a legacy of mine and of our company,” Patrick affirmed.
If you would like to learn more about the Family Businesses of America, visit familybusinessesofamerica.com. In addition to the Sons of Bosses, the FBOA also has a small group of women who are leaders in their family businesses. Called the Daughters of Executives or DOEs, they meet on the third Tuesday of each month while the Sons of Bosses meet on the second Thursday of each month. The SOBs and DOEs get together for networking, social and educational events as well. If you are involved in a family business and want to check out a meeting, complete their online application at
Photos by Justus Martin. www.justusmartinphoto.com