ARBOR WEALTH: All in the family … business

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

“Mom loves the both of them … you see it’s in the blood.” — from “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone

My Mom was born in Limerick, Ireland, and immigrated to Canada as a young person. Years later, after marrying and starting a family, she opened a lunch restaurant in a Chicago suburb.

Eventually she moved to Florida and sold Irish imports in her own retail stores. My father built cabinetry and remodeled her stores. And in some fashion or another, we all labored in her businesses.

Everyone is familiar with a “Mom and Pop” enterprise. Family businesses comprise the heart and soul of the American workplace. According to Business Insider, “… one-third of all companies in the S&P 500 are family-controlled, and many are outperforming their competitors.”

Not every farmer’s child wants to plow the back forty, though, and there are many reasons why a son or daughter may choose a different path. Often times he/she simply has no interest in what the company does. Sometimes a young person’s skill set may be well suited for a career quite different than the one he would embrace as part of the family business. Many young adults want to, and are often well served by, branching out into the work force on their own before they return to take over the reins of the family business.

Henry Ford is a classic example. Ford was the son of successful farmers in Dearborn, Mich., but his passion wasn’t raising crops. Ford left home at 16 to work as a machinist in Detroit. He returned home for three years, but continually tinkered with steam engines.

After his marriage to farm neighbor Clara Bryant in 1888, Ford briefly operated a sawmill. Then it was back to Detroit to serve as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company. He attracted investors for his two-cylinder, four-horsepower gas-powered engine, but they desired quicker profits and soon grew impatient with his experimenting.

In 1903 he established the Ford Motor Company. His Model T, the Tin Lizzie, was an immediate success. To fill his orders, he developed revolutionary factory techniques, including using large-scale production plants, utilizing interchangeable, standardized parts and perfecting the moving assembly line. In 2013 (the last year figures are available), the Ford Motor Company generated revenues of just under $130 billion. While it is publicly traded, it is still a family business.

Similar examples abound. Cargill, the agricultural industrial conglomerate, was nothing more than a grain elevator the year the Civil War ended. It’s now the country’s largest privately held company, with $108 billion in revenues in 2013. And the Mars Company, which produced $30 billion in 2013 revenues, began as a homemade candy store in the Washington state residence of Frank Mars in 1913.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 —, a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.