Lifework Leadership Spurs Family Legacy

Ryan Housefield, Ann Blair Thornton (Ryan’s finance), Jordan Kohley, Lauren Kohley, Susan Kassing, John Kassing, Peter Kassing

In reflecting on legacy, John Kassing, CEO of Marquis and a Lifework Leadership alumnus, said “Our children will be the living testament to who we are; they are our legacy.” His wife, Susan Kassing, a Lifework Leadership Coach and alumnus, agreed, “The most important job on the planet is parenting.” Because they wanted their adult children to be “contributing, productive members of society and church,” the Kassings have made Lifework Leadership a family affair.

After encouraging their daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Jordan Kohley, to go through the program, sons Ryan and Peter look forward to participating. The Kassings have also become sponsors of Lifework Leadership through their family business, Marquis, where Ryan also works in sales with his father.

Lifework Leadership has activated their faith and transformed their approach to giving. Now they are incorporating principles picked up at Lifework Leadership into their family culture, encouraging each family member to set annual goals and spurring one another on during family gatherings.

John Kassing explained, “Every Christmas when we get together, we have a formal family dinner out. It’s evolved over the years, but most recently we put a challenge to the kids to be more intentional and think about their giving strategy and how they will live out their responsibility as a Christian. We challenged everybody to have a Donor Advisory Fund with NCF, the National Christian Foundation, and discussed how they might leverage those funds. So now when we get together at the end of the year, we ask, ‘What did you do this year? What was your plan and what did you accomplish?’ That was kind of a fun dinner this last year.” Ann Blair Thornton [Ryan’s fiancé] was a part of that and said, “I definitely walked away pretty proud. Everybody had some very definitive plans, and what they were doing and planning to do was just very cool. I’m honored to join this family.”

“It’s a time when we reflect and project,” added Susan.

This is a noble endeavor, especially when you consider the family is spread out across the country, with siblings residing in Texas, Michigan and Illinois, while Mom and Dad maintain home base in South Florida.

I sat down with the Kassing family, some participating remotely via speakerphone, to discover how Lifework Leadership has impacted their lives.

Lifework Leadership Legacy

Good News (GN) – First, tell me a little about Marquis.

John – Marquis is a software solution consulting company for banks and credit unions. We write software applications for various functions, and we consult around that and give them guidance… Our niche is more focused on marketing and client relations. We also work in an area called compliance where the banks have to adhere to a lot of the rules that we read about in the press. We provide them the software to be able to track and manage their activity. They are two very different functions, but they are both basically database functions with consulting.

We have about 750 clients, banks and credit unions to whom we supply various solutions.


GN – Are you the founder? How long has Marquis been around?

John – My father, my brother and myself started it about 32 years ago. Compliance and Database Marketing were just beginning at the time. And over the years, I have two other brothers that came into the business and were very instrumental in the growth, then, in time, Ryan was a welcome addition to the business.


GN – Our cover story this month is on legacy family businesses. That’s interesting that you’ve got that many family members involved in your business. Is that challenging at times?

John – I don’t think there’s any business that doesn’t have challenges because you are going to have disagreements. In our case as brothers, the four of us came from very different walks, so as we came together we would have different perspectives. I would say the overriding principle for us when we got into any type of controversy was we backed off and punted. We didn’t push any decision that was going to cause any real split in the family. Generally speaking, we were a little more conservative, which served us well in the long run. Family came first. Now as I say that, we didn’t have a great deal of controversy. Most people marvel, saying they wouldn’t work with their brothers or sisters and can’t image four brothers working together, but it worked quite well for us.


GN – How do you feel about working for your dad, Ryan?

Ryan – One of the unique things about working for a family business, or maybe it’s just unique to ours, is that at the end of the day, whether it was the brothers, the employees, myself or our clients, everyone knew that our reputation came first, and our name was much more important than profit.

John – Well, it was basically surrounded by taking care of the client.

Susan – Ryan would often say to me: “Mom I love my job. It’s a great job, but I really enjoy the fact that I can help the family.” That was a real big reason why he wanted to come on board.

Ryan – Working for something bigger than yourself is always something to strive for, and for me, I don’t think it gets any better than working for a family business. You’re not just supporting yourself and yours but the family as well, so Mom’s absolutely right.


GN – How and when did you get involved in Lifework?

Susan – John Offerdahl had been asking me for years and years and years to do Lifework Leadership. I’m too busy. I don’t have time. You know the excuses. So finally, my husband said, “If you’re not going to do it, I will.” I watched how it changed him, not that he needed to be changed. But I just saw such a change in him in the giving area.


GN – So why did you say, “I want to do this?”

John – Susan had been to one of the sessions as a guest and thought it was very cool. I believe I went to the next one…They had a lineup of great speakers. Ron Blue, Doug Holliday etc. it was a who’s who of speakers at that particular time, so I thought, I want to do this!

As I look back… Lifework was learning about how to exercise my Christian walk in business and in the community. I look at these three areas of impact: How I can live out my faith in business with my staff.  Secondly, how I can become involved and make a difference in the community; and thirdly, we were introduced to the world of Christian charities.

I think that’s part of the conversation with Lauren, Jordan, Ryan, Ann Blair and Peter. Pick your head up and look around. There’s a lot going on out there beyond just going to church. We’re supposed to be an outreach group not an inclusive group. Where can you spend your time and talents beyond just your church. Whether its dealing with foster children or homeless, the list goes on of all the needs out there that need some level of attention. It was very eye opening to me about what was possible and what we could do as part of our legacy.


GN – What do you feel, then, was the biggest impact you got from it?

Susan – Stephan’s Jesus Journeys are just amazing. The speakers – sometimes you feel like you’re the only one going through these struggles and then you hear the speakers and their transparency makes a difference in my life. And then the books. The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn made a huge difference in my life, realizing that nothing I have is mine; it’s all God’s. So those three areas I’ve enjoyed. And of course, meeting the class members.

Lauren –  I loved how every month they really broke down the characteristics of Jesus. He had these characteristics that drew people to him, to really break it down one month talking about humility and another month talking about leadership, using him as an example. The main thing I got is that Jesus is an incredible leader, and one of the books we read was Lead Like Jesus. That can be used at home; that can be used at work, in your marriage. I thought that was pretty powerful.


GN – Susan, you decided to be a coach. Why is that?

Susan – I am such a believer in Lifework Leadership and the changes it makes in the lives of those who are going through the class that I wanted to help. We have made some great friends in Lifework Leadership. That’s for sure.


GN – Has Lifework affected Marquis and the way you do business?

John – I would say, yes, but I don’t know that everyone there would recognize it. There’s a lot that I took away and shared with some of my brothers. David McKinnon, with Service Brands Int., which includes Molly Maid, shared how he and his partners worked together. He shared a number of life’s lessons as far as dealing with one’s partners…

How you operate your business and make decisions within your business from a Christian perspective, this is my view of the premise of Lifework.

Ryan – I would also say there is a correlation between our business and Christian walk in that it’s about servanthood. I think Marquis has done a phenomenal job of instilling a culture of service, whether it’s the people we call the internal customer, which is your colleague, or the external customer, which is your client, that’s always our focus from day one, and the business will take care of itself. I think that’s something that carries over from Lifework to our daily business. That’s something we always keep front and center.


GN – Jordan and Lauren moved back to Michigan to work with his father and brother at his family’s propane distribution business, Excel Propane. Are there things you learned at Lifework that will help you in your family business?

Jordan – There is a certain responsibility as a business towards your customers and being charitable, but I think the biggest impact was more with the employees because it’s such a close part of your life, and it really is a family. One thing I found at Lifework that was enlightening is to just increase your awareness. You could go through the paces of your everyday without seeing opportunities to serve someone in need and just walk past things you didn’t realize were a problem. From owning a business, you can try to impact your employees’ lives or be more actively involved or proactive when life issues come up. Rather than just a salary and a check, you can actually do things to help improve their lives because they are kind of like your family.


GN – Susan, what was the impact for you?

Susan – I think Lifework came at a good time because I was ready to become involved in the community, and Lifework showed me how. Lifework showcases different charities, and I became aware of the opportunities.


GN – Who do you think should participate in Lifework?

John – Anyone who wants to grow in their Christian walk in business, the community and at home.

Lauren – I would say anyone who really wants to make an impact for Christ in their community.

Peter – I haven’t been a part of it, but just from what I hear, I think it would be huge for young professionals because apparently the speakers are world class. You get a chance to learn from their mistakes and don’t have to make them on your own. And if you have God in your business, it’s going to catapult itself!

Ryan – One of my favorite sayings is, “You are the sum of the company you keep.” So, just to build out your network with positive people, people that are looking to make change, people that are heading in the right direction is huge in my opinion.

Susan –And for someone to see what the Christian walk looks like in the business world.


GN – What would you say to those who say they are too busy?

Susan – You’ve seen the demonstration where you put pebbles and marbles in a vase and think “My vase is full.”. Well, let Lifework Leadership be the sand. Even though you think your vase is full, you can still pour that sand in and make such a drastic change in your life… I would say if you are questioning, go to a Lifework class as a guest and see what it’s all about.

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