My First Job: Family Business CEO Started Out Sorting Time Cards

Barb Moran-Goodrich runs the Moran Family of Brands, a family-owned company that franchises chains of automotive aftermarket services and products. But it wasn’t easy to reach the top of her father’s enterprise.

Dad fired her once before she came back to the company, eventually to assume the role of CEO of the Midlothian, Ill.-based enterprise in 1999. And her first job of any sort was sorting time cards for the company, then known as Moran Industries, at the age of 12.

“Mom gave me a stack of 100 time cards and told me to add them up,” recalled the 51-year-old Moran-Goodrich. “I had no idea what I was doing … so I calculated the hours incorrectly, and my mother wasn’t happy: “How did you not know how to do this?” she said. My response: “I’m 12.”

Besides learning the sting of disappointing her mother, however, Goodrich took several other lessons not only from her first experience as a rookie bookkeeper but also from growing and maturing through various back-office functions at Moran as she rose through the company—and then became its CEO.

Here are four of them.

1. The importance of the back end. By learning her family’s business from the inside-out and from the absolute lowest rung possible on the administrative side, Moran-Goodrich came to understand thoroughly the importance of such indicators and levers in running and growing a business.

“By learning all of those jobs on the back-end of the business,” she said, “it really helped me understand what you need to be tracking, managing and watching … I learned how to manage businesses on the back end from all different angles.”

“By learning all of those jobs on the back-end of the business, it really helped me understand what you need to be tracking, managing and watching … I learned how to manage businesses on the back end from all different angles.”

2. A focus on data. Moran-Goodrich swallowed up data and spit out analytics long before it was cool, and really before most of today’s Big Data computational tools were available. Her early appreciation of the value of data from simple childhood jobs helped Moran grow then—and does so now.

“I understood how back-end data and information can actually tell you where your problems and issues are—and also can give you the solutions,” she said. “I became a data junkie, telling people how important it is and how much information it can give you and how it can help you set your path.”

For 15 years, for instance, Moran-Goodrich has been providing each franchisee a data-based comparison of its performance versus others in the system. “Now,” she says, “over the last five years, finally, everyone is into data and benchmarking.”

3. Learning to push through. Moran-Goodrich had to teach herself many of the company functions that her parents expected her to learn. That created in her an early ability to source information from many different places—and back then, the available sources didn’t include the Internet or access to any of its information wonders.

“But I did have computer skills and brought computers to our company in the ’80s,” she said. “That helped me learn not only how to research, but also not to accept that there was a barrier to what I needed to know or figure out—not to say, ‘I’m going to stop doing what I’m doing.’ I’ve brought that attribute to what I’m doing today.”

4. Breaking a strange glass ceiling. Moran-Goodrich’s father, Dennis, appreciated her early contributions to the company’s internal operations—“He was the visionary; I was the integrator”—but figured that his daughter didn’t have the right stuff ever to run the enterprise simply because of her gender. That was the case even though Moran’s two brothers and a sister never became as involved or interested in the business as Barb did.

At one point, Dad fired her “for having a baby; he wanted me to stay home,” she said. Moran-Goodrich got a job outside as a political staffer, but within a couple of years, she wanted back into the company. Finally, several years later, in 1992, after she and Dennis suffered concurrent health crises, they came to a new understanding: Barb would buy out her dad and take over the company.

“I haven’t looked back,” Moran-Goodrich said. “We’ve moved forward and reinvented the company.”

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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