All in the Family and Run by Families Are Insurance for Future Generations
For more than 70 years the Hawthorne name was synonymous with delicious baked goods in St. Andrew, Jamaica. Norman Hawthorne made bread, buns and cakes from old family recipes and sold them from his home in the 1930s. He passed the family recipes to his son Ephraim, who opened Hawthorne & Sons Bakery in 1940, and provided authentic Jamaican delicacies until he retired in 2002. Ephraim, in turn, passed his baking legacy on to his son Lowell and his other eleven children. Lowell and his siblings Lauris, Lloyd, Velma, Milton and Jacqueline, emigrated to the United States in 1981 and, eight years later, brought the family�s concept to New York. They convened a family meeting with their spouses, pooled their resources and opened Golden Krust Bakery on East Gunhill Road in the Bronx, with Lowell as president and CEO.
�We personally baked, sold and distributed all the products, which included bread, cake and meat patties, in the beginning,� he recalls. �There�s a trust among the family members that�s important to the organization.�
Carnie Bragg Jr. learned about running his family�s funeral home business by working beside his father since he was seven. Both his father, Carnie Bragg Sr., and his mother, Eunice, were licensed funeral directors. His father opened Bragg Funeral Home in Passaic, N.J., in 1937, and opened a second home in Patterson, N.J., in 1945. His parents repeatedly asked him if he was sure that he wanted to be involved in the funeral home business, says Bragg, explaining that they did not want him to commit to the profession because of them. But even at the age of seven he was sure that was what he wanted, he says. �I felt good that I was helping my father when I carried flowers at a funeral. I was never afraid of the funeral parlor because I was not taught to be afraid. I worked in the funeral parlor throughout my education,� says Bragg, who is a graduate of Fisk University and of the McAllister School of Embalming in New York City.
Unlike the Hawthornes and Bragg, who inherited the businesses they run today, Monique Greenwood, CEO of Akwaaba Enterprises, Brooklyn, N.Y., is a first-generation entrepreneur. Originally from Washington, D.C., she and her husband, Glenn Pogue, used to travel around the country, staying at bed-and-breakfasts and enjoying the experience immensely. When the couple moved to Brooklyn in 1989, they soon found that there were no hotels in the borough to accommodate friends and relatives visiting from out of town. In 1995 Greenwood opened Akwaaba Mansion, a brownstone more than 50 years old that she refurbished as a bed-and-breakfast in the historic Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. The B&B is the flagship business of Akwaaba Enterprises, of which Pogue is vice president. The couple�s 11-year-old daughter, Glynn, is very much a part of the business as the creative talent behind the company�s Mirrors Coffee House, also in Bedford-Stuyvesant. �She hired the manager and works in the business. That�s her baby,� says Greenwood.
Family-owned businesses, the bedrock of the American enterprise system, are a growing presence in the African-American business community as more blacks sidestep the corporate-employee path to financial independence and take on the responsibility of providing job options for their children and other blacks. �Our generation has to foster this belief that we can be entrepreneurs, and pass it on to our children. They can be self-employed and employ others who look like them,� says Greenwood. Lowell Hawthorne agrees. He has already begun to pass the family recipes on to his children�Haywood, a college student, and high schoolers Omar, Monique and Darien. Haywood works part-time as an assistant manager and a purchasing manager.
Catering to Family Entrepreneurship
Overall, family businesses account for 89 percent of U.S. businesses, including more than a third of Fortune 500 firms, 64 percent of the country�s gross domestic product and 62 percent of the 81 million people employed in the U.S. workforce, according to the study �Family Businesses Contribution to the U.S. Economy: A Closer Look� (2003) by Joseph H. Astrachan and Melissa Shanker. Their continuing growth, vitality and viability have not gone unnoticed. Efforts to formally educate entrepreneurs on the intricacies of such enterprises have given rise to specialized programs at more than 60 universities throughout the United States. A small group of schools, including Harvard, Cornell, Baylor, the University of Southern California, the University of St. Louis, Mo., and the University of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, have set up private, nonuniversity entities that conduct research, hold family business conferences and develop state-of-the-art curricula. In addition, major financial institutions and corporations, such as Ernst and Young, MassMutual, Arthur Andersen, U.S. Trust, Bankers Trust, Coopers and Lybrand, Boston Co. and the Mellon Group, sponsor university programs.
Typically, family enterprises are owned and controlled by a single family whose members also occupy the top management positions. They also have been in existence for at least two generations. For example, Bragg and his sister, Constance, are the top executives at the family�s funeral home enterprise. All of Hawthorne�s remaining siblings�Novelette, Charles, LeRoy, Raymond, Cassandra and Lorraine�have since joined the family business in the United States. Of Golden Krust�s 420 employees, more than 40 are family members. �We share the same vision and aspire to the same goal,� says Lowell.
Studies show that family-owned enterprises not only outperform their industry groups but also nonfamily counterparts. Just two years after launching Golden Krust, for example, the Hawthornes were able to expand the company to two more locations in Brooklyn and Connecticut. Experts add that family-owned businesses also have an aversion to debt, are more inclined to reinvest dividends and have a tendency toward long-term strategies rather than the preoccupation with quarterly results that is more typical of public companies. At Golden Krust, for example, long-term expansion is an important growth objective. Through franchising, the company has already expanded from its original Bronx location to 53 locations throughout the tristate area and three stores in Florida. Twenty-nine new stores were scheduled to open this year. Similarly, Akwaaba Enterprises has expanded beyond its flagship B&B in Brooklyn. The company now comprises Akwaaba Enterprises Properties Inc., which owns four commercial spaces rented to local businesses and 13 residential apartments, Akwaaba By The Sea LLC in Cape May, N.J., and Akwaaba DC in the Dupont Circle area of Washington, D.C. It also licenses Akwaaba Caf̩.
Family-owned businesses start out as small enterprises, often offering a unique service and a distinctive personal touch. Greenwood deliberately chose the Bedford-Stuyvesant location for her B&B, for example, �for it to be a showplace, to break down the misconceptions and stereotypes out there regarding our community.� she says. �We are true to the Victorian period of the house with our furnishing, but true to our heritage with special touches, like antique sofas covered with African textiles,� Greenwood says. Both she and Pogue can be found cooking or making up beds. �We are very hands-on. We pride ourselves in giving a lot of personal attention and really want to treat our guests like the kings and queens they are. From the time you walk in you are treated like family,� she says. Guests are given a tour of the B&B, which has a sitting area, guest library, TV and game room, sitting parlor with a fireplace, 52-window sunporch, and a garden with a fountain and swing for two. �We pamper guests with massage therapists, run the Jacuzzi and light candles in the bedroom for romantic evenings.�
Bragg says he tries to emulate his father�s personal touch and will go the extra mile for a family, even traveling to the family�s home to make arrangements. �I wanted to be like my father because I saw how he enjoyed helping people,� he says. �It�s not a sad funeral home. We�re not sad when making arrangements. We have a way of helping people to break the ice. We ask about the deceased person�s hobbies, whether he or she cooked, and people start talking about the food he or she cooked. What�s important in making arrangements is to talk about the person,� he says.
In a family business, says Golden Krust�s Lowell Hawthorne, it is important to recognize each family member�s strengths and weaknesses and delegate tasks accordingly. Hawthorne�s brother Milton, a mechanic with the Ford Motor Co., is responsible for the maintenance of trucks, machinery and equipment. Brother Raymond, an electrician and contractor, builds the company�s stores. Lowell�s wife, Lorna, who was an office administrator with the New York City Police Department, is administrator at the company�s main office.
At Akwaaba, daughter Glynn�s talents were quickly recognized. She has owned Mirrors Coffee House, for which she created and designed the d�cor, since the age of eight. �Glynn told me she wanted a business because I had the Mansion and my husband had the Caf̩,� says Greenwood.
Keys to Success
Together, Hawthorne, Bragg and Greenwood offer a lengthy list of tips for ensuring the success of family-owned businesses. �Networking is important. Understanding and knowing what�s available in your community, if there are federal dollars or if the Small Business Administration has funding available. Make sure you have a business plan. Once you understand your product, pick your location and market it, � says Hawthorne. Also, �take calculated risks. Do homework and research and then move in,� he advises.
Bragg urges would-be family entrepreneurs to �make sure there�s a need for [the business] wherever you want to start it and that you really want to do it. You should have enough capital to hold you until you get established.�
Greenwood looks to the human side first. �Make sure that you are entrepreneur material�self motivated, resilient and passionate about the thing you want to do. Make sure you have the right team of people around you from the start. Have a supportive circle of family and friends,� she says. Moreover, �always have open lines of communication and understand that family comes first, before business. We carve out Sunday afternoon as our family time and protect it.� Greenwood does not believe in limitations. �Just be creative with financing and be realistic about [what you can handle],� she says.
The Best-Laid Plans
But the best-laid plans for setting up a family-run business that lasts for generations may go awry. At Akwaaba, sixth-grader Glynn finds the time now for her coffeehouse and school, but does not plan to stay with the family business. �She has been bitten by the acting bug,� says Greenwood. At Bragg Funeral Home, both Bragg and his sister have two children each, but none of them wishes to take over the family business. Bragg�s response is stoic. �I don�t have any problem with that. I advise all young people: �Don�t do a job to make money; do what you want that makes you happy,�� he says.
These children are still young and may yet turn to the businesses their families have built. For now, however, their parents take comfort in knowing that they are creating a viable option for the careers of generations to come.
By Linda Armstrong