Keeping it in the Family Two Businesses Reflect on the Dynamics of Family-Owned Business
“The impact on the community is tremendous both in terms of business and philanthropy,” says Ellie Frey, director of the Family Business Alliance in Grand Rapids, a Michigan-based organization that researches and provides information on family businesses (See more on page 20). “Family-owned businesses tend to want to be in a community for the long haul and to be good to their employees.”
While among many, Duckett Brothers Distributing and Granger stand out as two lineage-founded firms in greater Lansing.
Duckett Brothers DistributingOne wears a business suit, the other fashionable camo and a knit winter hat. But when seated at the table, there’s a noticeable sibling chemistry that binds the two together.
“We’re definitely brothers, but we’re two different people,” says Tico Duckett of his brother Todd “TJ” Duckett. “You’re definitely not getting a clone.”
“That’s right,” says Todd. “We’re 11 years apart, and didn’t fight over cereal. That’s definitely preserved our relationship.”
Tico and Todd co-own Duckett Brothers Distributing, a janitorial and industrial supply company on Lansing’s north end. Started by Tico in 1998, the minority-owned firm serves municipalities, large insurance companies, several manufacturers and a variety of automotive suppliers.
Tico launched the business based on expertise he acquired while working as a senior buyer for a local manufacturer. That experience, combined with the interpersonal skills and work ethic he picked up playing collegiate and professional football, propelled his business onto the Lansing area field.
In 2009, Tico tapped the similar experience and expertise of his younger brother Todd and asked him to join the business. Also an alumnus of Michigan State University football and the NFL, Todd brought his love of community engagement to the company, executing philanthropic causes, volunteerism and global service through his New World Flood organization.
“We were both trying to find our own identities after playing football,” says Tico. “I found it in business, TJ in philanthropy.”
Both Ducketts agree that the experience of playing football at the highest level greatly contributed to their business savvy.
“We know how to set goals and how to handle success and failure,” says Tico. “Basically, it equates to a game plan. You have four quarters to execute what you want, and then you start the next season in the New Year.”
Tico says that bringing Todd on board was simply an extension of the advice and opportunities that big brothers provide for younger kin.
“When you have a brother or sister, you want them to do better than you,” says Tico. “Tony, my older brother, did the same for me. He was a great high school athlete, I was more into college and Todd excelled as a pro.”
Today, Tico serves on the operations side of Duckett Brothers, while Todd builds business and community ties through sales, marketing and philanthropy.
“I jumped right in when I got through playing for the NFL,” says Todd. “I followed in Tico’s footsteps, but I’m my own person. I realized that I could add a different spin to the business through things I do.”
Lunch with a Purpose, the High Five Turkey Drive and the Battlefield Brawl are among the various volunteer and service activities that Todd oversees. And the Jacquelyn Barham Challenge — named for their late mother — encourages community members, school-age kids and celebrities to raise funds for cancer-related causes by growing out their hair or beards.
“That’s what this is all about right now,” says Todd as he strokes his longish beard and points to similar facial hair on Tico. “We see these kinds of activities as ways people of all ages can put themselves aside for a while and think of someone else.”
Keith Granger has a picture in his office that shows what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“It’s a bird’s eye view of a garbage truck,” he says as he points to the two squares he drew on construction paper as a Kindergartner. “My wife framed this for me for my 40th birthday.”
Today, Keith has surpassed his dream by overseeing a family business responsible for a range of recycling, composting, landfill management, renewable energy, and trash hauling and disposal services.
As the CEO, Keith is among the third generation family members working at Granger. In the 1960s, Keith says, Granger grew into a multi-faceted business from its start when brothers Alton, Ron and Jerry began hauling debris for their family’s construction company and others in the area. The company also committed to greater Lansing through a charitable foundation and corporate giving to various youth, environmental and community programs.
“My father, his brothers and my grandfather did what they needed to do every day,” says Keith. “And where they saw opportunity that matched their expertise, they would add another branch of business.”
Granger employs about 260 people, with four generations of family members involved in the business. The company’s leadership team, Keith says, consists of an equal divide of family and non-family members, overseen by a board of family and non-family members.
Growing up, Keith says he never remembers his father, Ron, talking business once he came home. For the longest time, Keith says he never knew what his dad did, except that he drove some pretty awesome trucks.
Now a father and businessperson himself, Keith says he shares the same philosophy as his father and talks very little about what goes on at the office when at home.
“My dad always told me that there will be times where you have disagreements, but that you don’t take it home,” says Keith. “You work it out here, and at the end of the day, we all get along.”
Other advice Keith has for a family business entrepreneur is to think ahead and decide how to handle the next generations.
“It’s important to communicate expectations early on,” says Keith. “Some companies might want you to work for a few years someplace else or get an MBA. That way, too, non-family members feel secure in knowing that even family members have to earn their spot.”