With established companies and solid reputations, it’s no surprise that a few UniCarriers Americas (UCA) dealers capitalize on carrying on traditions by running their families’ businesses. UCA spoke with three different second-generation dealers on why they chose to work in the material handling business and continue their families’ legacies, all while revealing the path that led them there.
AJ and Chris Sessa with CFE Equipment have been involved in the business in tangential ways since graduating from college in the 1990s and 2000s. AJ and Chris’s father and president of CFE, Tony Sessa, always encouraged that finding one’s own path and following one’s own interests is key in being engaged in a career. Taking Tony’s advice, both AJ and Chris obtained MBAs and worked in different industries around the U.S.
Eventually, they chose to formally enter the family business full time in the early 2010s. They were excited for the opportunity to apply the experiences they acquired to the unique challenges of the material handling industry. And they have realized over time that working at and managing a company in the forklift industry is never boring, always challenging and every day is different.
“We wear many hats to get a fuller understanding of the interactions between all our employees and how that translates into our product and service offerings,” said AJ. “This allows us to both maintain an intimate understanding of the business and be able to support each other when a particular need requires more careful attention.”
AJ admits there are certainly difficulties of being part of a family business but learning how to navigate and delineate between the work relationship and family relationship is key. “The biggest challenge of owning and managing a family business and not always seeing eye to eye is recognizing that each member knows their own strengths and weaknesses that help address each unique challenge and opportunity that comes their way.”
Like AJ and Chris, Bryan Leslie with Norlift, worked outside the material handling industry for a while before joining full time more than three years ago. Bryan did not expect to take over the family business but knew the opportunity would be fulfilling for the future.
By slowly ironing out how his experience and skillset would fit in, Bryan transitioned into the operations side of the business. Being part of a small business, Bryan’s role encompasses aftermarket, marketing and advertising and accounting and finance activities.
“I received invaluable experience at a Big 4 accounting firm that allowed me to see how different organizations operate and make money,” states Bryan. “I also developed the confidence I need to command an audience as a national training instructor.”
Nicolas Potvin with EMU joined the company in 2000 along with his two brothers. He began in a service management role and started selling forklifts full time in 2007. His father, Réjean Potvin, started the company and is still involved as a sales representative.
Nicolas’ favorite part about working in material handling? “Every day we deal with companies of all sizes and for each situation, we have the chance to help all of them with their successes. The material handling business touches every field and aspect of the economy, and it feels good to be a part of it.”
Bryan echoes Nicolas by stating that Norlift’s service capabilities can help anyone. “We’re a one-stop shop for any material handling need from container handlers down to a pallet jack. Every day is different, which makes it an exciting industry to be in.”
For other dealers looking to set up a successful succession plan, all dealers explain the importance of open and honest communication and dialogue. Nicolas suggests making sure each member of the family has a clear goal and that each member is aware of those goals. Bryan’s advice on achieving a successful plan is everyone working together with the goal of making the transition as smooth and seamless as possible.
“Given the interweaving of family dynamics and structures, no two situations will be the same. Communicate effectively and be as upfront as possible,” Chris adds.
While there will always be conflicts and challenges of mixing business with family, a successful succession plan can ensure that businesses continue to grow and expand from generation to generation.
*CFE was founded in 1975 and eventually purchased by Tony Sessa and partner Nick Covatta in June 1988. Starting as a single branch in Norfolk, VA, the company has now grown to cover additional territories in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and parts of West Virginia and Tennessee.
*Headquartered in Quebec City, Canada, EMU was founded in 1983. The company has branches in Chicoutimi with a soon-to-open location in Montreal.
*Norlift is a locally owned-and-operated family business located in Portland, Oregon. The company provides material handling equipment, service, parts, rentals and warehouse solutions throughout Oregon and SW Washington with plans to expand its service capabilities in central, southern and eastern Oregon.