Three Brothers United Through Division

Bobby Jenkins, ABC Home & Commercial Services

November 06, 2017

My two brothers and I inherited my father’s Texas-based pest-control company in 1987. We are as close as three brothers can be. Every day I am on the phone with or emailing them. We share information and ideas and marketing tips at regular meetings at our family ranch in Marble Falls.

What we don’t share is money.

That’s been the key to making ABC Home & Commercial Services work in its second generation of leadership. Family was always our No. 1 priority. So when my father decided to pass the company on to us, he needed to find a way to keep us equal — but he didn’t want to see us fighting over finances. In order to do this, he had to get creative about dividing up his company.

ABC was originally a one-man, one-truck gig that my father bought in 1967. He built up his business in San Antonio and eventually launched franchises in five other cities around the state. When he decided to retire, he sold all of the franchises except three: Austin, Houston and Dallas. He gave these remaining franchises as separate corporations to each of his children, and he remained part owner in all three.

It was an out-of-the-box idea that has worked out surprisingly well — and one that Evergreen companies might want to consider since succession is often a big issue. We brothers work together to ensure consistent quality across the company. If you go to our website, you can plug in your location and that will take you to the specific page for whichever brother is operating there. Over the years, ABC has evolved and branched out into lawn services, security systems, pool maintenance and even HVAC repairs. But we’ve each grown our businesses in ways that make sense for our particular regions. So my company in Austin might not have every service that my brothers offer elsewhere, but if the demand is there, we can ask each other for support on how best to grow that department.

We’ve also been careful not to steal business from each other as we’ve grown. My brothers and I literally have a map of the state of Texas with lines drawn for where each of us can expand in an equitable way. I have central and south Texas. That’s how we keep the peace. We have a saying for this: “Thou shalt not cross into your brothers’ territory or you shall have to deal with Mom.”

We share strategies for growth for the upcoming years, and we love to compete with each other on our P&L sheets. But we’ve all managed to grow without any serious interfamily feuding, which has helped in business and in our personal lives.

But now I’m faced with my own succession challenge — one I hope I can solve as creatively as my father did. Unfortunately I can’t just steal his ideas.

I have three children of my own, who are now grown and considering getting into the family business. My slice of ABC is a lot bigger than what my dad handed down to us, and a heck of a lot more complex because we now have so many new lines of business. There would never be a simple way for me to divide it into three distinct markets.

My plan right now is to give each of my children a third of the business. At this time, I don’t know what shape or form this will take. I also don’t know if it will allow for the kind of family harmony my brothers and I have been lucky enough to experience. We are working together to figure out the specifics and have by no means settled on anything just yet.

My brothers are in the same situation with their close-knit nuclear families, so more and more we are turning to each other to brainstorm this particular issue.

However we end up dividing our company, I’m working hard to keep the lines of communication open so that everyone feels they’ve been heard. I believe that finding a way to keep my children happy, motivated and connected — just as my brothers and I are — will keep our family business going into the next generation.

Bobby Jenkins is the Owner of ABC Home & Commercial Services.

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