The joys and challenges of being part of a family-owned coffee business
Katy Boyd Dutt
When my great-grandfather founded Boyd Coffee Company in 1900, I doubt he thought the company would still be thriving 112 years later, with several of his descendants in key ownership and leadership positions. Of course, there have been some hurdles along the way!
As other coffee companies across the country grow and evolve, the SCAA has noticed that more owners are exploring what it would mean to keep the business within the family. Since my company is in its third generation of family ownership (my father and uncle) and fourth generation of Boyd employees (my brother, cousin and me), the SCAA asked me to share some of my insight and advice about what it’s like to work for a family business.
Raised in the Industry
Growing up, I was never guaranteed a job in the company, nor was I expected to join the business if it wasn’t what I wanted. Still, my parents knew it was a possibility, so they encouraged me to learn about the industry. I remember being encouraged to taste—really taste—my food as a small child, and to name the flavors I detected. Today, as a coffee professional, this early emphasis on developing my palate helps me do my job.
If you’re thinking of bringing young family members into the business one day, introduce them to the skills they’ll need and see if they develop an interest. My nine-year-old already has plans to work here; any chance he has, he wants to come, see and try all the “fun” things. He thinks all I do day is sit and sip coffee and cocoa. That’s OK—he’ll learn soon enough!
Career-wise, growing up in a family business can be a blessing as well as a burden. While I have loved almost every minute of working in the family business, I often wonder what it would be like to get a job with no one tying your name to the company you worked for. In Portland, where we are based, most people know of our company and can connect me with it based on my name. Once, I applied at another company and the interviewer asked why they would hire me only to train me and then have me leave to go back to the family business; I was quite disappointed.
I look forward to some day sharing the family business secrets with my kids—but only if they decide they want to work here.
Joining an Evolving Family Business
After many years of visiting my dad at the office and working here while in high school, I joined the company 18 years ago as an apprentice, working in our equipment laboratory. This was followed by a three-year stint working in green coffee traffic with our roastmaster, 30-plus year veteran, Randy Layton.
In many ways, I was just another employee, but there were some distinct advantages—if I forgot my lunch money, I could walk down the hall and borrow it from my dad.
Throughout my life and my career here, I’ve seen the company grow as I have grown. I’ve been able to be a part of it all—sometimes as a spectator, and sometimes as a leader. All along the way, I’ve had great mentors in my family as well as outside of it.
Two years ago, my father and uncle retired. They remain co-owners of the company, but for the first time in our company’s history, we hired a CEO who was not a member of the Boyd family, Jeffrey Newman. It’s been a shift, but a great one. I think we did it the right way; we found a great leader who understood the ins and outs of family business and what to expect. Having fresh eyes come into the leadership of the company was a little weird at first, but our new CEO is so outgoing and friendly, he quickly became another family member.
You Can’t Pinch Your Brother in a Board Meeting
On the plus side, being in the family business means you get to see a whole lot more of your family. On the minus side, it means you get to see a whole lot more of your family!
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from my family—the good, the bad and the ugly.
My brother, cousin and I made a promise to each other: let’s get along or we leave. Our family is more important than squabbling over business. We still have an occasional heated discussion and may not always see eye to eye, but we know we can rely on one another for support and insight—and know each other will understand when we do mess up.
There are a lot of similarities in family business, no matter what the industry, and it’s been helpful for me to network with others in similar situations.
Oregon State University has a business program for family businesses with a strong curriculum to help students understand the opportunities and potential pitfalls of going to work for “mom and dad.” They put together a group of local family business people who meet to discuss business and family questions, and occasionally to vent (Can you believe what my dad just did?!). We keep what we discuss strictly confidential, so everyone feels comfortable seeking support. It’s a great support group; we know we aren’t alone.
Charting the Future
What role will my generation—the fourth generation of Boyds in our business—and our children have in Boyd Coffee Company’s future? Our story continues to unfold; our plans are evolving with careful mentoring and planning from those who have gone before us.