Matt Sullivan is a Family Business Advisor at DVFBC.  He brings over 45 years of family business experience and is excited to be a part of our Learning Community.  This blog is the 2nd in a series from Matt, sharing his family journey with us.

‘The Rules’

I recall it was a warm summer weekend afternoon when Dad tracked us down to gather in the living room for another ‘family meeting’.  The year, who participated, other agenda topics, or even my exact age at the time are vague.  What I clearly remember was this was my first time hearing about ‘The Rules’.

Dad started speaking, and it went something like this… Understand we are so fortunate to live in the land of opportunity where you can become anything you want to be. You can become an engineer (Dad touted chemical engineering as a great profession), doctor, lawyer, plumber, priest (Mom thought it would be nice if one of her six sons would consider becoming a priest) or anything you would like to pursue.    

Education, education, education is the key. You will also need determination, dedication, and to have the will to persevere through difficulties and put in the time necessary. The choice of what career path you pursue is solely your decision, and know your Mother and I will support you 100%.   

He paused, and I wrongly assumed this parental career-counseling, somewhat motivational moment emphasizing education was now complete.  And then he continued and emphasized the first four words… But if you choose to consider employment at Dunmore (the family business) you will need to know ‘The Rules’.  These rules will not be found in any company handbook, but make no mistake about it, these are ‘The Rules’ for you to live by if you seek employment in the business:  

  • Rule #1 — no job will be ever be created for you 
  • Rule #2 — you will need to meet the qualifications for the job you are applying (so start getting the education and experience now) 
  • Rule #3 — you will be paid what the job is worth  
  • Rule #4 — the most important rule is you will be a Role Model Employee the first day you step into that building.  Understand that every employee will be watching you differently. Watching you for what you do, how you work, what you say, and how you behave due to your last name.   

 Another pause, and he continued with… And here is what it means to be a Role Model Employee:

    • You will always be on time for the start of the workday; being early would even be better 
    • You will always get your work done right, the first time, and stay as long as needed until your task is finished  
    • You will always respect your boss, whoever that may be.  You will listen carefully to what he/she tells you to do and do it to the best of your abilities    
    • As a Role Model Employee, you will never be the cause any problems or disruptions in the workplace.   

Then he finished this talk with his usual saying… any questions, good, enough said, meeting adjourned.  

Initially I recall thinking ‘The Rules’ and sub-rules were over-the-top and did not think much about them as I had no intentions of joining the family business.

Today I realize it was obviously not Dad’s first version of ‘The Rules’ or his first time sharing these philosophies with the family. ‘The Rules’ continued to be repeated regularly, refined and formalized over the years.  Dad was very good at setting clear expectations and delivering the message consistently.

Note: none of their 11 children ever pursued a chemical engineering degree or the priesthood. Mom and Dad were always incredibly supportive on our career choices, and I spent 32 years in the family business.

Dad (Michael L Sullivan) was one of the founding members of Dunmore Corporation.  He led the business as president from 1970 to 1988 and then continued serving the business as Senior Business Advisor and Board Member until his passing in 2005. I followed ‘The Rules’ for many years, and when our 2nd Generation Sibling Shareholder group took over, we adjusted ‘The Rules’ for our generation.

What are ‘The Rules’ (which some families call a Family Employment Policy) in your family business?

Families will and should customize their own ‘Rules’. Consistently sharing and enforcing clear expectations regarding the employment of family members will avoid much heartache and help assure long term sustainability.

As a Family Business Advisor, I am appreciative for the opportunity to collaborate with other business families as they  create mutually agreed upon ‘Rules’.  I am enjoying “giving back” to help others successfully navigate their 5 MOUNTAINS® and will look forward to sharing a few more of our family business stories in future blogs.

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Matt Sullivan

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