All in the Family | Generations in business share their secrets

By Jillian Mitchell (article first published in 2014)

Working with family is a talent all in its own. But when it comes down to it, keeping it professional and planning for the future is what counts—just ask any of the following long-term SICA member firms, who each celebrate multi-generations in business. 

All in a day’s work

The Greenough family of Kelowna’s TomTar Roofing & Sheet Metal Ltd. has been in business for over 70 years, and during that time three separate generations have taken their rightful place at the helm. 

It all started in 1945, when Harold Greenough founded the roofing company as a branch of plumbing/heating/roofing contractor Barr & Anderson. Harold’s son Tom came onboard with the company in the 1970s and proved an integral part of the company’s rebranding in 1980 as TomTar Roofing & Sheet Metal Ltd.

Next up, the company looks forward to a new chapter, as Tom’s son, Robert, will take over ownership. Accordingly, Robert has been diligently preparing for this role, gradually taking on more responsibilities in addition to his current duties as general manager. 

One thing he’s learned thus far: “A 9-to-5 is not going to cut it, to own a business,” says Robert, who started working at the family business at age 10. “Eight hours gets you the meat, 10 hours gets you potatoes, and 12 hours gets you the gravy. We do 12’s here—success is not optional.”

Patience and integrity are among the most important leadership attributes, according to Robert, as is an unyielding respect for the generations that came before him. “The old man’s always right. If he isn’t, you make it his idea,” he adds. “He’s got decades of experience under his belt; sometimes there’s other ways to do it, but the way he’s doing it you know will work.”

It takes two

For the Donald family, it all began on the Canadian Prairies in the 1940s. It was then that Edward Donald founded Donald’s Metal Works, known today as Donald’s Machine Works Ltd., in Winnipeg, MB. It wasn’t until 1981, however, that the company planted roots on Canada’s West Coast. 

Edward’s son Doug officially founded the Vernon chapter 33 years ago. Today, the Canadian Welding Bureau-certified company has grown from a one-person operation to a team of 20 under the direction of Doug’s son, Shawn, the current owner.

Shawn remembers the succession transition like it was yesterday. “I never intended to buy the company,” recalls the current president, who in partnership with long-time friend, Andrew Blake-Knox, took over his father’s business in 2007. “I came to the realization that I was going to have to move away if [Dad] sold it; I didn’t want to leave, so I worked into the position.”

This is the first chapter for Donald’s Machine Works Ltd. that involves dual-ownership. It was a strategy that came about through the insistence of previous owner Doug. “The company was too big for one person by the time my dad had sold it,” adds Shawn. “My dad [had the foresight to not] let me buy it as an individual.”

For Shawn, two pieces of advice can be attributed to his successful transition to business owner—education and knowing your limits. “It’s best to stay on top of legal aspects as much as possible. I recently took a Construction 101 course, not because I was new to construction; contracts change and you try and understand your risks,” he says. “And for us, what we try to do, I don’t take on jobs that don’t suit the shop—too much risk.”

Roll with it
Penticton-based Betts Electric Ltd. has been a staple in the Okanagan since 1933. Behind its longevity is three (soon to be four) generations of owners spanning eight decades—founder Ira (1933); his son David (late-1950s); grandson Gerry (1988); and within the next five-plus years, great-grandson Cameron. 

In recent years, current owner Gerry Betts has limited his work hours, as he hands over responsibility to his son, Cameron, the next owner. “We’re trying to phase from one to the other,” Gerry says. “It’s my goal to help fill in the gaps.”

This approach is much different than what Gerry experienced back in 1988 when he transitioned to ownership. “Back then, there wasn’t really a succession plan,” he says. “My father was around to help and guide, but I was on my own quite a bit of the time.”

What got the company through, says Gerry, was its reputation. “It does make life easier when you have a good reputation to build on and move forward,” Gerry says. “But you have to keep up with the reputation.”

Son Cameron is learning valuable life lessons from his father about entrepreneurship, among them is the importance of a work-life balance. “You try to keep it professional in the office—work is work,” says Cameron, who started working alongside his father as a young child. “That’s something my dad has taught me: when you’re done at the end of the day and you go home, we don’t need to be talking about work.”

For the ISO 9001-certified electrical contracting company, diversification has been an integral factor in their success, as has their ability to roll with the changing times. “Our business has gone from handshakes to CCDC contracts. It’s been a big shift for us,” says Cameron. “My father’s been very good with technology; he’s embraced it quite well and I think that’s been a big benefit for us.” 

Gerry adds, “I like to think that we were a little ahead of the curve [with technology]. “When I started estimating, it was pen, paper and a calculator; now it’s a computerized system with a database. We were probably one of the first to do computerized estimating.”

This article first appeared in the 2014-2015 issue of SICA's Construction Review Magazine. To read the entire magazine click here.

March 22, 2021

2021 Gold Seal Program Changes

The Gold Seal Certification program certifies estimators, foremen, owner’s construction managers, project managers, safety practitioners and superintendents working in, or with, Canada’s non-residential construction industry.
Read More
March 16, 2020

COVID-19 Update

​Like you, SICA has been closely monitoring the ongoing global spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Read More
October 04, 2019

2019 Industry Awards of Excellence Winners

SICA would like to congratulate all the finalists and the winners of SICA's inaugural Industry Awards of Excellence! Finalists and winners were honored yesterday, October 3rd, at the Award Presentation Dinner held at the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna, BC.
Read More
December 12, 2018

Winter Safety Tips

Working during winter feels more like survival of the fittest than an everyday challenge. The risks are much greater for employees who have to work and drive outdoors.
Read More
September 13, 2018

8th Annual Chair Dinner & Awards Celebrates Industry Leaders

SICA held our annual Chair Dinner and Award Night where we celebrate member anniversaries, board volunteers, Gold Seal recipients, and scholarship recipients. In addition, this year we had the honor of awarding both a Consultant Award and the Innovation Award.
Read More
June 28, 2018

2018 Kamloops Trap & Skeet

Every year the Kamloops Trap & Skeet is one of the most anticipated events we host! With over 100 attendees, BBQ steaks, and some tough competition it is safe to say that a blast was had by all.
Read More
June 27, 2018

2018 SICA Golf Tournament

On June 21st, 2018 144 golfers converged on Sunset Ranch Golf Course for the annual SICA Golf Tournament. Despite lightening in the valley causing a brief course closure and pouring down rain in the afternoon the event was a huge success!
Read More
May 30, 2018

2nd Annual Family Fishing Derby

The beautiful Roche Lake Resort was again the site for our now 2nd annual Family Fishing Derby. This event, hosted through a joint partnership between the Southern Interior Construction Association and CapriCMW Insurance, is quickly becoming a must attend for all SICA members.
Read More
April 30, 2018

Celebrating our Own - Terry Brown Receives CCA's Person of the Year Award

The CCA Person of the Year Award recognizes individuals who demonstrate the qualities of a leader and who apply the highest standards and principles of the construction industry and business community. To those who have had the opportunity of working alongside Terry Brown, he is the living embodiment of this description.
Read More
April 24, 2018

10th Anniversary of Heavy Metal Rocks in Kamloops

2018 marked the 10th year of the Heavy Metal Rocks event in Kamloops. This project provides opportunities for Grade 11 and 12 students from the School District No. 73 to explore career opportunities in the heavy equipment operator field.
Read More
April 19, 2018

Construction Industry Celebrates BC Construction Month at Okanagan College

The Kelowna building community was proud to celebrate BC’s Construction & Skilled Trades Month with a breakfast held at Okanagan College on Thursday. In the newly built Trades Building contractors, apprentices, foundation program students and industry support organizations gathered to recognize the impact the construction industry has on the BC and specifically the Okanagan economy.
Read More
BCCA Employee Benefits logo.JPG
February 07, 2018

Unsung Benefits

The BCCA Employee Benefits’ plans offer other services beyond dental and extended health care.
Read More
January 24, 2018

Message Delivered, Message Received

Successful buildings have always been the result of collaboration between the client, designers, and contractors. A strong team, clear expectations, and concise information will typically result in a project which all involved parties will consider successful. Through recent decades the delivery of projects has changed with increased complexity, decreased timeframes, and changing delivery methods. Now more than ever it is critical that the collaboration between the team occurs to ensure the desired outcome.
Read More
December 20, 2017

TAX ALERT – Government Simplifies Measures to Rein in Income Sprinkling

On December 13, the federal government released legislation to simplify restrictions on income sprinkling, proposed to go into effect January 1, 2018. These revisions indicate they’ve listened to feedback during the consultation period, by providing more certainty to taxpayers through the introduction of “bright-line” tests to automatically exclude some family members, and allow income sprinkling for those members who make sufficient contributions to the business.
Read More
8F - 2006 Mack Dump Truck.jpg
December 13, 2017

Member Spotlight: Ok Excavating

Adaptability, initiative, and customer service are the keys to longevity for a local commercial and residential excavation business in Kelowna. OK Excavating is celebrating 50 years of business in 2017 and, in those years, has undergone many evolutions.
Read More
November 29, 2017

Construction and Cyber Risk: An Overview

A hazard such as a fire has protocols and procedures that are designed to mitigate risks – inspections, suppression systems, and risk management practices. Cyber protection of a business should also employ a rigorous process to develop both a risk prevention and incident response plan. Most cyber insurance applications serve as a catalyst in moving towards this process.
Read More
November 15, 2017

Could Tax Issues Throw Your Business Off Track?

To stay on track, real estate and construction companies should develop a better understanding of where tax issues are likely to complicate or disrupt their business — and develop a plan to mitigate those risks well in advance.
Read More
November 08, 2017

Top Five Reasons for Having an Employee Benefits Plan

One of the biggest investments employers can make is in their employees. And it makes sense to want productive, healthy, and engaged employees. Employees with poor health cannot exert the effort required to be highly productive, and you need engaged employees in order to create innovative solutions.
Read More
August 30, 2017

Obligation of Good Faith in Contracting

The Supreme Court of Canada changed the legal landscape for contracts in the decision of Bhasin v. Hrynew, [2014] SCC 71. This decision created a new common law obligation of good faith that applies to all commercial contracts.
Read More
August 23, 2017

Embracing the Purpose Era

Regardless of the size of your business or the sector you operate in, the purpose movement is shaking up the rules of business and ringing in a new era where business is an active participant in making the world a better place.
Read More