Steven Kraus not only runs a third generation family business, Skyline Windows, but also a business full of families. Based in Bronx, New York, the company was founded in 1921 by his grandfather, Sam Kraus. David Kraus, Steven's dad, took over the company in 1948. David passed the reigns to Steven, who is grooming his son, Matthew, to become CEO. Steven's brother and sister also work at the company.
In a time when many companies struggle with employee retention, his family business model has supported a culture where many employees have stayed for more than 20 years and refer their family members for employment. I wanted to know Skyline's secrets to longevity and loyalty. Here's what I learned:
Share your burdens like a family
During the economic downturn everyone in the company took a slight pay cut. Steven operated the business with the understanding that they would have a lower margin.
"It was the best decision we made," says Steven, who attributes that decision and similar ones to why his family of families are loyal and perform well. "When we face problems, we all suffer together. But when it works, it feels good." Senior team members of Skyline have children, nieces and nephews who work there. Steven's brother is the longest tenured salesman in Skyline's custom division and has cultivated some of the company's largest, high-profile building accounts over 30 years.
I believe that family is a powerful tool for community development and I wanted to know the impact of Steven's family business in his area. It turns out that another key ingredient to Steven's ability to garner loyalty is the fact that he hires at least 20 percent of his workforce in a community that's been hard hit.
"There's nothing like the joy of giving employment and opening your doors wherever you are," said Steven who has moved his company around many times. He shared that his company attracts their most loyal and best performers because his team focuses on looking in their own backyard for talent. A steady stream of people from the community walk into the office and fill out applications.
Give your children room to grow
Steven's son, Matthew, was promoted to senior vice president on the day of my interview. Steve confessed that he was not strategic about Matthew's leadership development. Matthew started with the company working in individual apartment window sales. He has worked in many areas of the business, including marketing, physical plants, conference rooms, show rooms and data systems.
Matthew has taken the initiative to explore the various areas of the company, diagnose and solve problems. Steven gave him the room to learn how to do well, and he has.
Steven also shared what working with his son looks like: "Most mornings, I will link up with my son, Matt, and we will review current initiatives and hot projects. The goal is to have all of our efforts align, as he is focused on processing our work from an operational stand point, while I am mainly focused on new business development."
He is also proud of his daughter, Lauren, who is a talented photographer and has chosen to pursue her passion. He admires her and supports her decision to choose a path different from growing their family business.
Steven doesn't paint family business as perfect. He admitted to having issues with his dad in the early days, and that the journey can be painful. He explained that there is pressure to perform in a family business. It hurts when employees and others make negative comments about your family in business.
With that being said, Steve ended our conversation with, "Whose back would you rather have than your family? When it [family business] works well, it really does work well." He feels fortunate to have so many family members, not just his, work alongside him every day.