By J.P. Donaldson
There’s an old saying: The first generation builds it, the second makes it a success and the third destoys it. Whoever crafted that expression never met these next-generation builders and renovators, each one determined to carry on and build upon their family’s legacy through continued hard work, dedication to the residential housing industry and an ongoing commitment to excellence. They represent just a few of the hundreds of family-run-home-building companies across Ontario.
FRAM BUILDING GROUP
Giovanni Giannone emigrated from Italy to Canada in 1957, the third generation of a family of general contractors from southern Italy. After brief employment as a mason, he began his own masonry company in 1959, with a little home building on the side.
In 1981, following the graduation of Frank, his oldest son, Giovanni created FRAM Building Group (named after his four children: Frank, Ralph, Antionetta and Mariana), with Frank as president. Today, FRAM is an award-winning company renowned for its creativity in planning, designing and building premier residential and mixed-use communities across Canada and the United States.
The fifth generation has now started to enter the company. All of Frank’s four children have been involved with FRAM throughout the years. Two now work full-time: Christina, as a project manager for the Development and Marketing division, and John as a project manager and site super. The youngest, Robert, will be joining the company following completion of his Master’s degree from NYU.
“There was never pressure to enter into the family business from the older generations,” says Christina. “We were always taught that hard work pays off, and the encouragement we received from family focused more on obtaining proper education for something we were passionate about.” Three of the siblings studied programs at university that related to the industry; the fourth, David, became a chiropractor.
“I always knew this industry was for me,” says John. “As a child I was in awe when I had exposure to the real construction site. When I was old enough, I was handed my first pair of construction boots, hardhat and a broom, and was instructed to sweep the units’ floors of our then newest development. I truly was learning the business from the bottom up. ”
The same holds true for the youngest sibling. “Growing up, I always had a desire to do what my father did, even though I wasn’t fully clear on it,” notes Robert. “As I grew, my understanding of what my father and grandfather did became clearer: originally thinking they were construction workers, then home builders, then housing developers. Finally, my understanding has developed to where I see my father and grandfather today: community developers.”
HOMES BY HENDRIKS
In 1961, Arnold Hendriks, a husband and father of six, left his job at a construction supply store to start a small renovation business, relying on the carpentry skills he had learned in his native country, Holland. In later years, Arnold’s wife, Barbara, became involved in the clerical end of the business. The firm grew through the years with Arnold taking on larger renovations as time passed. His son, Ron, began working with his father during school holidays, and joined the business on a full-time basis in 1978. Before long, projects began to include custom new-home construction, along with renovation work that was increasing in scope and scale.
Arnold and Barbara partially retired in 1993, and Ron’s wife, Yvonne, took over all of the clerical duties. In 2000, Ron and Yvonne become sole owners of the business.
“My parents (Ron and Yvonne) felt a tremendous sense of honour and desire to carry on the family legacy,” says Darren Hendriks. “My dad also knew he had the experience and expertise to continue offering the same high level of quality Homes By Hendriks had become so well known for.”
Darren started spending his summer breaks working with the business in 2002. In 2008, after completing his post-secondary education in Business Administration –Operations Management, he joined the company on a full-time basis. “We had a long-term succession plan where I would gradually take over the business until my parents eventually retired,” he says.
All that changed in 2012, when Ron was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He passed away in August 2013 at the age of 52.
“Our four- to five-year plan turned into a four- to five-day plan,” Darren relates. “Fortunately, I’d done a lot of training and taken a lot of classes; for example, I was part of the pilot program for EnerQuality’s Green Renovator project. And my father was the consummate teacher and mentor who instilled in me a hard-work ethic and a strong value system. On any given day, when I’m dealing with a stressful situation, I think, ‘What would my dad do?’ and I can always find the answer.”
In 1955, James O. Kaufman, a WWII Navy veteran and tool and die maker, set his sights on becoming a home builder. Today, Kenmore Homes is a successful family business spanning—so far—three generations, with over 12,000 units built and sold, and three busy regional offices in Niagara, London and Kitchener-Waterloo.
The third generation entered the family business in the 1990s, with Kris joining in ’96 as a labourer and Jennifer coming aboard in 1998 in an administrative capacity. Today, Kris serves as the construction manager, while Jennifer has taken on the role of Project Manager for Niagara Housing.
“I more or less fell into the role I have today,” says Jennifer. “When the PM opportunity opened up, I took an extensive job leap, but I had the right grooming and future support systems in place to ensure that I would have a successful transition, and I was definitely encouraged to take on the position by my father, James.”
Despite her relative youth, Jennifer admits to being “somewhat conservative,” although she’s not opposed to slipping in some fresher ideas on occasion. “It definitely helps that I am within the age range of our target market for most of our housing projects, and being a female in a largely male-dominated industry has brought change in itself.”
Her brother Kris, meanwhile, cites family guidance as having paid big dividends in his development. “I am very fortunate to have started my career working alongside my grandfather and father,” Kris says. “Each and every day I was able to learn something new from the two of them. I could also recognize the slight differences in their leadership style, but I came to realize that their core beliefs and values were always aligned.”
As for working together on a day-to-day basis, both acknowledge that it’s not always smooth sailing. “There are no courses to teach you the skills needed to work in a family-run business,” Jennifer observes. “But in the end, we have a common goal: ensuring we carry on the legacy our grandfather started. That’s the driving force that keeps us working together.”
A fully integrated real estate company involved in the construction, ownership and management of office, commercial, industrial and residential properties, Menkes Developments Ltd. was founded in 1954 by Murray Menkes, who initially carried on business as a developer of single-family homes. While the company has remained family-owned, it has expanded significantly through the years, branching out into other areas of real estate. Menkes is now one of the largest private Canadian developers of residential, industrial and office properties, with real estate ventures spanning the Greater Toronto Area.
In 2008, the first representative of the third generation entered the family business with the addition of Jared Menkes as director of development in the high-rise residential division. Jared was followed by his cousins: Jason, in 2010, who assumed the role of portfolio manager in the office, industrial and commercial division; and Adam, in 2012, the company’s development manager in the low-rise residential division. In addition, Sean Menkes signed on in January 2013 and will be working in commercial property management.
“I decided to enter the business because I have always had an interest in real estate,” admits Adam, one of the newest additions to the firm. “I made it known as early as grade school that I wanted to join the company. My father, grandfather and uncles encouraged me and ensured that I was exposed to as many elements of the company as possible, from construction to development to building management. I wanted to join the business for many different reasons; apart from my overall interest in the industry, I am very close with my family and always relish the opportunity to work with and learn from them.”
That closeness has translated into a positive working relationship, one that Adam believes is priceless. “I am very lucky to work with my father, uncles, cousins and brother. There is no shortage of support, mentorship and guidance. I also had the privilege of working with my late grandfather, which was really special. Having the historical context of the company and industry from three generations is truly unique and will no doubt prove invaluable to the careers of myself, Jared, Jason and Sean.”
In 1953, Ken Adam found that the life of a farmer didn’t always provide the stability and quality of life that he wanted for his family, so he decided to put his interest in building to work and started constructing and renovating homes. As his two sons Gary and Glen got older, they too joined the business. Gary, in particular, enjoyed the unique working relationships he built up with his renovation clients, and after purchasing the company in 1979, he concentrated exclusively on renovations.
Gary’s son, Jamie, was first introduced to the family business as a summer student in 1988. “After high school, I spent some time on the jobsites, before continuing with my formal education at Conestoga College, graduating from the General Business Program,” says Jamie. “Working out on the jobsite provided many valuable lessons, but I really felt I would be happier working on the estimating and sales aspects of the business, which was what prompted my return to college, and then return to the business in 1993 upon graduation. Since then, I’ve been a part of everything from administration to accounting, to sales, and now I’m the president.”
In 2011, Jamie and his business partner, Paul Meier, purchased the company. Today, Pioneer Craftsmen is one of Waterloo Region’s premier design/build/renovation firms, with a full in-house professional design staff and a team of 24 lead carpenters, apprentices, project managers and designers—all with a focus on mid- to high-end full-service renovations.
In addition to a home constantly under renovation, Jamie’s earliest memories involve business discussions between his father and grandfather during weekend visits. “I learned that it’s incredibly important to be able to leave work at work, and home at home. Every family business faces these challenges. Ken passed away in 2010 and I do miss seeing the pride in his smile whenever we had the opportunity to discuss the business. My mother has also been an integral part of the business for many years. Working with both parents has allowed me the opportunity to debate many ideas, while receiving some great advice from differing points of view.”
REID’S HERITAGE GROUP OF COMPANIES
When brothers Melville, George and Albert Reid, along with their friend, Bill Lang, began building wartime bungalows in Guelph under the name of Reid and Lang, they couldn’t have imagined that they were also building a legacy. Nonetheless, by the 1970s, the second generation had entered into the business. “My father Orin (son of George) operated the business from our basement, and my mom, Jane, would clean the houses before they were sold, with me and my sister Charlotte tagging along,” remembers Scott Reid, vice-president.
In 1978, Orin and Jane launched Reid’s Heritage Homes, building in Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo. The business boomed in the 1980s and survived the recession in the 1990s. “I spent my summers doing service work, while Charlotte worked in the office doing accounts payable,” says Scott. “My dad was gradually setting us up to work on our own.”
The plan changed when Orin passed away suddenly in August of 2000. “It was a very difficult time,” says Scott. “Tim Blevins and I were in our early twenties, faced with two choices: wind down the company or work together with our family and persevere in the business. We chose the latter and, together with our siblings and respective spouses, formed Reid’s Heritage Group of Companies.”
That third generation includes Charlotte and Tim Blevins, Scott and Shelley Reid, Brian and Heather Reid, and Brent and Michelle Bigelow. Today, all of them, including mother Jane, remain involved in the business in some capacity. Through it all, Scott and his brother-in-law and president Tim Blevins have tried to maintain a family culture, while leading by example.
“We’re the first people to come in the morning, and the last to leave,” Scott notes. “We try to attract the people who have the same work ethic, and we’ve been successful at hiring a great team. The people we work with are an extension of our family; that core philosophy translates to the homes we build. When our tradespeople, suppliers and employees in the field see that we are 100% invested, it raises the bar.”
In 1923, Harry Sifton built his first house at 587 Rosedale Avenue in London, where it still stands today. His introduction of building several homes at one time on speculation proved so popular that from 1940 to 1948 construction grew steadily to 20 homes per year.
Five hundred houses later, Harry passed the torch to his son, Mowbray. Under this new leadership, the company began assembling large tracts of land, positioning Sifton Properties for a full-scale foray into land development and diversified construction. The company now boasts 650 employees in five Southwestern Ontario cities, and has branched out to include the building and management of residential rentals, office commercial space and retirement living.
In 1970, Mowbray’s son Glen entered the family business. After five years of working outside of the company, his younger brother Richard came on board in 1989. Today, Glen is the company’s chairman, while Richard is president.
“I don’t ever remember being asked if I wanted to be in the business; I think it was more of an expectation,” says Richard. “Looking back, I don’t know if it was my parents’ expectation or mine, but here I am, running the family business.
“During Glen’s tenure as president, in the downturn of the late 1980s/early 1990s, his direction was to preserve capital,” Richard adds. “On the other hand, I came in with the opportunities of a growing economy and we are working to grow again in our business units.
“I never really had the pleasure of working under my father directly; he had moved on when I came into the president’s role. However, working with family is never easy. Some have ownership, some work in the company and some are simply family members. I have been fortunate enough to wear all three hats. You always have to know which hat you are wearing when you are addressing an issue.”
Beginning in 2009, a fourth generation has entered the business, starting with Matthew Robertson in the role of land technician, followed by Karen Sifton as the maintenance administrative assistant, and with Victoria and Cameron Sifton as summer students. It’s safe to say there will be no generation gap in the family business.
E.B. Ratcliffe was a man of vision. In 1906, he started building homes in Hamilton, with his other business pursuits including Bartonville Block and Stone. Later, when his children Charlie, Bettina and Ed Jr. took over, they changed the name to Abbotsford Homes, with Ed Jr. going on to form a stone manufacturing business, Angelstone (now known as Arriscraft International). In 1979, the third generation took over and changed the name to Starward Homes. The company has been building homes in Hamilton and the surrounding area under the Starward banner ever since.
In 2003, a fourth generation entered the picture with the addition of Brandon Campbell in the role of sales representative, followed by Carley Campbell in 2008 as a designer. Today, Brandon is Starward’s vice-president, while Carley manages the award-winning design studio, which opened in 2012.
“I honestly never thought I’d do anything different,” says Brandon. “When I was five we did a major addition/renovation to our home, and we moved next door to live with our grandparents while the work was going on. I spent all my time watching and learning what the trades and workers were doing. They even made me a white hardhat; I knew from that point forward that’s what I wanted to do.”
The same holds true for his sister. “I was always told I could be anything and do anything, but when it comes down to it, I am interested in the housing industry,” says Carley. “When all the little girls were dreaming of their wedding dress, I was designing my dream home in my mind. Now that I am the design manager, I get to design every day and I love it.”
As for working with multiple generations, they both say it’s great, “most of the time.” “We feel an extra sense of support and pride. It’s not just our coworkers, it’s our family; and it’s not just our jobs, it’s our life,” Brandon says. “On the flip side, it’s hard to shut it off when we’re not in the workplace; many family dinners, vacations and celebrations have turned into business discussions, especially when you get all three living generations in the same room.”
This article originally published in OHB Spring 2014.
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