Position: Managing Partners
Been with company: Jennifer, October 2013 / Tracy, Summer 2014
Will eventually succeed: Mark Thompson, their father
H.A Thompson and Sons has their headquarters in Bismarck, an office in Fargo and employees living throughout the state so they can service the entire state of ND.
First things first – even though Mark Thompson’s two daughters will be running the business someday, they are not changing the name.
The family has just begun the succession process and both women have a lot to learn before they take over. Jennifer is working in the Fargo office and Tracy will be moving back to Bismarck this summer. “Right now there is no set date for our dad to retire, and frankly I don’t think he ever will,” said Jennifer. “Until he physically can not come in to work, he will be there in some shape or form. I think that is kind of a luxury we have, a prolonged period of time he will be here so we can observe and learn from him.”
“We’ve got a lot to learn,” Tracy added. “Our dad has been in the business for 38 years and we’re not only learning from him, but also what our grandfather and great-grandfather did.”
Both girls were involved in their careers and never had talked about going into the family business. In 2006 their dad had open heart surgery and about six months later both girls had the opportunity to sit down and discuss what they would do if something happened to their dad or mom. “As we talked through it we decided we would not want to sell the business, we wanted to keep it in the family,” said Jennifer. “We were never pressured, really never asked. We didn’t set any dates at that time, but decided at some point we would go into the family business.”
“The company has always meant a lot to us, we are very proud of it,” Tracy said. “I couldn’t imagine it being run by someone who doesn’t have our name. And the timing is right. We are both confident in what we’ve done in our previous careers that we have the skills to run the business.”
Tracy has managed the optical store at the Chaska Super Target for a number of years, and developed an expertise in customer service. Jennifer had the opportunity to work with a variety of people while working in the States Attorney’s office in Fargo, and later as the Director of Development for the Dakota Medical Foundation.
Their transition into the company should be a smooth one. Their dad, Mark Thompson, laid the groundwork with the management, letting them know that at some point they would be starting, and as it got closer he let everyone in the company know. Their roles will be in management, since their backgrounds are not in heating, ventilation, air conditioning or plumbing. “I have been out with our pipe relining crew because I feel I need to understand it,” said Jennifer. “My plan is to take the opportunity to ride along on some jobs so I can talk the same language. We are not going to be working in the field, but we are certainly trying to learn every aspect of the company.”
Tracy echoed that sentiment: “I want to learn what everyone does, not necessarily do what everyone does.”
When it comes to decision making the sisters know there may have to be some give and take. “Our dad is a little different in how he does things and that may be a growing pain,” explained Jennifer. “I definitely think that, even though he may disagree, we’ll work it out. He’s still the boss and he is still running the company, so we know who will have the final say.”
“The reality is, there will be some times when he won’t be around and we will have to make some decisions,” said Tracy. “Although we might make a different one than he would, we will think, ‘how would Dad do it,’ and not just do things our way. Jennifer and I will need to communicate a lot on how we are going to handle some things.”
Their dad has laid out goals for the next 20 years and for right now, the women are going to stick to the course that he has set out. “He has had to modify those goals, because North Dakota is not what it was five years ago,” said Tracy. “It will be very helpful for us to work through all of that with him.”
“And we have had discussions about what he did during down times to keep the company surviving and become thriving again,” said Jennifer. “We are very fortunate to be coming into the company at a really good time. But we know we have to be prepared for a down time. We don’t want to be the generation that ruins the business. And, it’s not just for us. We have nearly 80 employees. There is a lot of pressure and we hope we are going to be able to do as good a job as our dad has done.”
“We are going to learn a lot from those employees, too,” added Tracy.
One of the ways they are preparing for the transition is talking to others who are going or have gone through similar situations. “We are part of a peer group network through our LINC franchise,” said Jennifer. “There about 160 franchises, 16 that are family owned. We are close in age and it is an opportunity to talk about things that come up, especially since we are in the same industry and next generation owners. It is eye opening, helping us to think about different situations.”
The sisters lived together in college and have always gotten along, as well as siblings can. They are fairly confident they can work through the difficulties they may face in the years ahead. “We know we will have some challenges, but we also need to keep the peace.” Good advice for any family.
Their advice to others who may be going into the family business: Keep an open mind and look at the family dynamics, maybe it would not be a good idea for the family to work together.