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Longevity and the Family Business: Tricky Transitions

Keeping a family business going from generation to generation can be tricky, especially when you don't know whether the next generation will want to take over or not.

Chris Petrick, CEO of Bretford Manufacturing, does not know yet whether any of his three children will be interested in running the company because the eldest is just a freshman in high school. Chris and two brothers and a cousin are still managing the transition in control of the company from his father, David, and an uncle. They just completed the purchase of the company from their elders.

Cousin Matt, 44, is the director of product development and management. Chris’ younger brother Tad, 43, is director of design. Brother Joel is an owner but is not involved in management. They have two outside directors on their board to create balance. “They provide a nice, neutral ground when my dad and I aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on things,” Petrick says.

Altogether, there are seven children in the next generation, Generation Four. Chris’ kids know that his company makes some of the things they see at school and have even helped him to develop new products for charging, syncing and securing mobile devices in schools.

“Wouldn’t it be cool, Dad, if you had plugs in a couch and you could just plug in?” they asked one day. In fact, couches with recharging plugs have emerged as one of the company’s most popular product lines. When the time comes, he plans to ask his children, “What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? If that means working at Bretford, that’s great. If not, you’ve got to have another plan.”

He clearly agonizes about the transition, because with so many family members involved, “It gets messier and messier. There are parts of me thinking maybe this is the last generation.” Still, he has hope. He doesn’t want the third generation to fail.


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