Owning a business comes with great responsibility. Taking over a family business that’s been around for over 100 years adds yet another layer of complexity. Leading your family’s business comes with a unique set of challenges.
You could leave things the way they are and keep business steady – the way things have always been done. Or, you could implement changes intended to expand the business.
Make the right moves, and business could be driven to a whole new level. Or, you could make the wrong decisions, negatively impacting the bottom line and weakening the foundation. Even worse, your actions could result in some very tense family gatherings, and “I told you so” remarks.
Traditionally Diversified with Expansion in Their Future
Gag Sheet Metal (GSM) was founded in 1904 by George Gag. Early on, most of GSM’s work was in New Ulm and the surrounding communities in southern Minnesota. Early on, they started with a diversified strategy that included roofing, fixing bicycles, and lawnmower sales and service.
Today, GSM is led by fourth generation owner, John Gag. Though they haven’t repaired bicycles for nearly 40 years, GSM remains diversified with services to residential and commercial customers including sheet metal, heating and cooling, roofing, plumbing, and an extensive lineup of appliances.
“Unlike early in our history, today 90% of our business is outside of the New Ulm area,” John said. They have expanded their footprint to serve customers across five Midwest states including Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin,
Leading the Family Business and Maintaining Its Legacy
In 1999, at the age of 36, John Gag took over leading GSM after his father, Mike Gag, retired due to health issues.
“Even though I’d been involved in the family business since the 1970s, when I joined after college, I worked on the roofing side of the business,” John said. “Before I took over, I’d spent most of my time working on job sites. Today, I spend about 25% of my time going over financials and another 25% of my time working with employees.”
“GSM grew over the years because of strong relationships and a reputation for quality,” John said. “We have a solid team of 70 employees who live in the New Ulm area. Like most businesses today, we’re challenged with recruiting new employees. We also continue to seek the right balance of efficiency and profitability to fit the size of our operation.”
John went on to say, “My recommendation to other businesses is to find a banker who believes in you and your business. When we met with Shannon Hillesheim, Market President of Bank Midwest in New Ulm, we found a true partner who took time to listen and really understand GSM. It’s not the old, traditional style of banking focused only on numbers.”
Advice on Keeping Family in a Family Business
When asked what advice he’d give anyone considering working for their family’s business, John shared a few thoughts.
“If you’re interested in joining the family business, go work somewhere else for a while. You’ll gain new experiences and learn things that you’ll be able to bring back. If you’re not interested or passionate about your family’s business, don’t do it,” John said. “I wouldn’t talk any of my kids into joining GSM out of obligation. When I joined GSM, I promised my dad I’d work here for a year. That was 1986.”
A lot has changed at GSM over the years, and the business continues to thrive under John’s leadership. But it’s still very much a family business.
Steve Gag, John’s brother is the HVAC manager and his dad, Mike, stops in from time to time. “Pressure can change the way you think,” John said. “Having my brother and dad around has been important to me and very much part GSM’s ongoing success.”
To learn more about Gag Sheet Metal, visit www.gsm1904.com.
Want to talk to Bank Midwest about managing or growing your family business? Connect with one of our experienced commercial lenders.