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UT center aids family businesses

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Greg Barrow prunes geraniums at Barrow's Greenhouse in Toledo. Founded in 1892 by John Barrow, the greenhouse now has a work force of six, five of whom are related to each other. Greg Barrow, great-great grandson of the founder, manages the business and works with his father, mother, wife, and sister.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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The separation between home life and work life is somewhat blurred for Barrow's Greenhouse in Toledo -- five of the company's six employees are related to each other.

The business was founded in 1892 by John Barrow. Today, the founder's great-great-grandson, Greg Barrow, manages the business, and works alongside his father, mother, wife, and sister.

Mr. Barrow said he and his relatives have a vested interest in the company's success since it has been their family's livelihood for several generations.

"You've got a good, reliable work force because they know the importance of running a business," Mr. Barrow said.

Family companies such as Barrow's Greenhouse have unique advantages and challenges compared to nonfamily-owned firms throughout the Toledo area, said Debbie Skutch, director of the University of Toledo's Center for Family & Privately Held Business.

The center has 140 members, including The Andersons Inc., Harold Jaffe Jewelers, Magic Wok, Sauder Woodworking Co., and Buckeye CableSystem, which is owned by The Blade's parent company, Block Communications Inc. The Blade, Toledo's oldest continuous business, has been owned by the Block family since 1926.

The center works with firms from various industries, from manufacturing companies to law offices, ranging in size from $1 million to $1 billion in sales. Though family companies may have different focuses, Ms. Skutch said they tend to have similarities.

"They're driven by legacy, values, traditions that sometimes take precedence," Ms. Skutch said. "They also have CEOs in place for a very long time."

While many family companies have common benefits, they often run into similar problems, she said. That includes planning for new generations to lead the business, and managing communication among family members who work together.

UT's family business center organizes several "affinity groups" to help companies deal with such topics. Each group includes about 10 to 12 executives from various family-owned firms, who meet regularly to discuss problems and solutions to typical family business frustrations.

"We found that it was a venue that was available nowhere else for people to deal with family dynamics," said Ms. Skutch.

Several of the center's members have been open for 100 years or more -- a notable feat, Ms. Skutch said, since about 30 percent of all familyowned companies survive to the second generation, while about 3 percent make it as far as the fourth generation.

Holt Roofing Co. belongs to the center. The Toledo company has been family-owned and operated since Floyd Holt founded the business in 1947. The firm is now run by Chief Executive Jack Holt, the founder's son, and Mark and Beth Holt, who are Jack Holt's children, as well as the company's president and vice president.

Ms. Holt said Holt Roofing has lasted more than 60 years in part because of the company's family atmosphere.

"The benefit is we treat everybody like we want to be treated," said Ms. Holt, whose firm has 20 employees.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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