February 1, 2023
This paid piece is sponsored by the Prairie Family Business Association.
Although they and their families run successful car dealerships, furniture stores and agricultural manufacturing plants, these next-generation business leaders also have a lot in common.
They have all grown and developed their careers within their companies and through experiences outside of them.
Max Patnoe, Emily Schmitt and Eric Sinclair will share their lessons learned in a Feb. 22 webinar hosted by the Prairie Family Business Association titled Developing Yourself as a Leader. They will share how they lead their corporate culture and their relationships with employees, vendors, vendors and family.
“This is a high-demand and important topic for family businesses,” said executive director Stephanie Larscheid. “Our panelists will share insights others can run with, including their personal approach to leadership development and how they extend it through their family and team.”
For Patnoe, the fourth generation of Liberty Superstores, which has five locations in western South Dakota, life in the family business began washing cars at age 10 and continued in working in all departments of the company before directing day-to-day operations.
“It was really essential in my journey,” he said. “Many of the employees I worked for 20 or 30 years ago are still with us today, and it was important to them to see me put in the hours and work on holidays. It really earned the respect of the team.
Schmitt is the third generation of the Iowa-based Sukup Manufacturing Co., which is the largest in the world family-owned manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment and steel buildings. She is the administrative director and general counsel. Schmitt began working in the print room and for years never accepted additional titles, although she added responsibilities.
“We wanted to make sure there was room to grow for non-family members,” she said. “I got my real C-level designation when we added an independent board, and in hindsight I’ve enjoyed it more.”
Sinclair, the fifth-generation president of Sioux Falls-based Montgomery’s, followed his family-business policy of working elsewhere before returning — and it proved invaluable.
“I got a job as an independent contractor for a custom upholstery manufacturer, and I got to work with family furniture businesses all over the country,” he said. “I had a front row seat to see what worked and what didn’t.”
Here is an overview of the topics the panel will cover.
What are some of the strategies you have found effective in leadership development?
Max Patnoe: We participate in industry peer groups that allow us to benchmark financial data and best practices. For a time, much of my and my father’s focus was solely on day-to-day operations. We weren’t strategizing around high-level topics or developing leaders, and it was just about getting through the day. We needed to be more strategic in developing key leaders to grow, and in hindsight, we probably missed some early growth opportunities because we didn’t develop our key leaders.
Emilie Schmitt: I have a passion for serving on boards and organizations, and I used to – I think I’m up to 16 now – and I still want to keep learning. I’ve reached out to mentors, and it definitely changes your development model, so I always encourage others to do so. Networking was key, and I used to be awful and clumsy until I turned it around to focus on helping others. I’m also part of a family support group, which brings future generations together to solve problems and make suggestions. And I didn’t keep my last name, which was a secret superpower. You get to know what people think about the business around the world.
Eric Sinclair: My parents were adamant that they weren’t going to teach me how to run the business. They dropped it, and I needed to find another way, so I joined a performance group of about 16 owners, and I was the youngest. The others took me under their wing and supervised me a lot in furnishing. And now I spend time in my prairie family business affinity peer group with great people that I lean on locally, plus I’ve spent a lot of time on boards, and it’s a very rewarding way to give back to the communities that have been so good to us.
How do you take on a leadership role in your family or encourage others to do the same?
Max Patnoe: Family reunions have been very beneficial to us, especially to make sure my sisters are on the same page. It’s not unlike when you’re managing employees that everyone is on the same page. For the next generation, my wife and I have a one year old, so leading the way is pretty basic and straightforward at this point!
Emilie Schmitt: In fact, we put together personality quizzes for our leaders and really dig deep and celebrate our diverse personalities. I will elaborate more on this during the webinar. Also, as we grow from generation to generation, we felt it was important to have an independently vetted board, which was essential. And we created a Leadership Council which led us to communicate more, including on finances, which is not always easy for family businesses. But we pull them behind the curtain to let them see where we’re coming from and why decisions are made, and with that we’ve been able to see people flourish.
Eric Sinclair: When I was about five or six years into my family leadership journey, I was working nonstop and my parents called a meeting with me. They told me that I needed a leadership team around me, and even though I thought we couldn’t afford it, they told me that we needed to build a leadership team. So I did that, and it continued to transform the business. Finding great people who can lead parts of the business has allowed me to do a much better job of leading myself instead of trying to do it all at once. And one of the best ways my dad continues to lead today is to spend an hour with each new employee, telling them about the company’s history and its corporate philosophy. He loves it, and it’s so precious to them too.
This webinar is an included benefit for members of the Prairie Family Business Association. New guests are free and regular guests can join for $25.
Click here to learn more and register.
The Prairie Family Business Association helps family businesses thrive across generations by providing a network of resources for family business success. The association is a key outreach center at the University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business.