Against All Odds

Sixteen years ago, I wet my feet in the business of the marine industry without even realizing it. I enjoyed my time as a high schooler filling orders at a regional distributor, helping dealers keep their shelves stocked.
Looking back at it, I think that, aside from the box of anchors that the pallet jack dropped on my foot, working at Lorenz and Jones Marine Distributors was a great experience. The insight into how the marine business operates through the ups-and-downs of the seasons became one of the most valuable work experiences I’ve had.
And it also demonstrated how a family runs a successful business.
Lorenz and Jones has been building its business for 72 years now. The business was passed on from the founder, Fred Lorenz, to his son Tom Sr. back in the mid-60s. It was then passed from Tom Sr. to his three sons, Gary, Tom Jr. and Ray, along with an outside-of-the-family partner, back in 1998. Today, the business is stronger than ever, thriving through new ventures and growing in dollar volume.
But the Lorenz family is not the norm.
On average, only about 30 percent of family-owned businesses survive the handoff from the first generation to the next. A mere 12 percent will still be viable into the third generation. And only 3 percent continue to operate into the fourth generation.
Having beaten the odds — without an advisor, mind you — for three generations, the Lorenz family is now faced with planning the next succession. Most likely, says Ray Lorenz, the next generation won’t be able to afford the company. So even if the family business does survive succession, strong growth can be equally as damaging to the next generation’s hopes for ownership.
That kind of success is rare in the realm of the family business, but it’s something that Ray and his brothers are proud of.
“I think that what my father taught us is that when we are here, we work as hard as we can until the job is done,” Ray explained. “When we go home, we try to leave the business at work.”
That thinking could apply to just about any business, but it’s of utmost importance to those owned and operated by families. There’s far more at stake in a business when family relationships are involved.
And family business systems touch every corner of the marine industry, from dealerships to boatbuilders to distributors like Lorenz and Jones. Experts estimate that anywhere from 55 percent to more than 75 percent of this industry’s businesses are family owned or operated. Our report on the issues that are most pertinent to the family business, can be found beginning on page 40. These experts and case studies provide insight that can help your family business succeed.

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