Hello and welcome to the second column of the Covered Conversations series brought to you by the Tent Rental Division (TRD) and TRD board. As the youngest member of the current board, it is only fitting that I get to write about multigeneration workplaces. Let me introduce myself: My name is Kyle Richardson, Operations Manager at L&A Tent Rentals in Hamilton, N.J. The business was started by my father, Brian, back in the 1980s and has grown to become one of New Jersey’s premier tent rental companies. I have been in the industry full time for six seasons but have been involved part-time since I was a child.
Growing up in the industry is no easy task. As you know, this business requires long days, longer nights and deadlines that must be met no matter the situation. But watching my dad as I grew up, I knew this is what I wanted to do. Some of the most rewarding moments of the job are pulling into a blank jobsite and leaving at the end of the day feeling accomplished and proud of what you have created. It’s also very fulfilling when you take a person’s vision and turn it into reality.
But enough with the job, let’s get into the “multigenerational struggles” as I like to call them. When I started working for my dad as an installer, there was a lot of head shaking, mumbling and sometimes even some colorful language coming from me. Yes, I know he’s my dad, but sometimes we young guys just know better…or do we?
One of the hardest challenges in a multigenerational business is getting each generation to understand one other. We all know our thought processes are not the same. Whether it’s family or not, bridging the gap between the generations is quite often a challenge. This industry is full of old timers with the “this is how it’s always been done, so that’s how we’re going to do it” attitude. They are the ones who want everything done perfectly, without having to tell you what to do, when to do it or how to do it.
It was not easy for me to bite my tongue and go with the flow six years ago when I came on full time. Once I realized I was not going to change how my dad thought, our working life became so much easier. Sometimes gritting your teeth, smiling, and saying “yes” saves so much time, energy and conflict. That doesn’t mean I didn’t go do what I had originally planned or thought, it just means that I agreed to what he wanted and moved on.
In the grand scheme of things, the disagreements we may have with the older generation are merely blips on the path to success in our careers. And it’s important to remember that the older generation is full of the type of wisdom that can only be gained through years of lived experience, and so my last bit of advice is to ask them questions. They do want to share their knowledge with us, but you have to ask!
One of the most difficult conversations is about a succession plan. While most people have an ideal scenario in their head of how the plan will work out, we all know it’s never that easy. Current owners have years of “sweat equity” – literal blood, sweat, and probably tears they’ll never admit to invested into their businesses. It only makes sense that they have fears of retiring and handing over their “baby” to the next generation. After all, it is their legacy.
But the times and the industry itself are ever changing. Technology is taking over and equipment usage is becoming more prevalent. And with change comes opportunity! The old guys built this industry from the ground up, but in many cases, it is the next generation who have propelled things forward and taken the business to the next level.
My hope for future generations is that we take full advantage of the opportunities that have been created by those who came before us and have a better work-life balance, become better at deciding what jobs to take, and lastly, that we run profitable businesses. I know it’s not easy, I know it’s not always fun, but in the end, it sure as heck is worth it.