by Michele Gillis, Staff Writer
Many sons grow up with their father telling them to brush their teeth, do their homework and do their chores, but what happens when the son follows the father into the family business and the dynamics change?
Not surprisingly, it seems to be a big trend in the building and real estate realm. Some worked with their father growing up, so it was a natural transition to go into the family business. Others joined their father after pursuing their own careers. But, the common thread between all the father and son teams is a strong family bond, which transcends into the business they pursue.
The annual Father’s Day is June 17 so let’s hear from three prominent families in the Northest Florida area.
Fred, Ted and Nathan Miller, Fred Miller Group
A lifetime of fishing, camping and good times led Fred Miller and his sons to eventually team up and work together in the real estate industry.
“One thing about our collective growing up was that we went fishing and camping all the time,” said Fred, CEO of Fred Miller Group, a full-service real estate company in Jacksonville’s Ortega area. “There was always levity and a magnetism that I felt among us as a family. The boys still do a lot of that with their kids and invite granddad from time to time. I love it.”
Fred Miller and his son Ted have worked together for 15 years. Ted is president, while Fred is CEO. Fred’s other son, Nathan, joined the company as a sales associate five months ago after being with Re/Max Specialists. The third son, Matthew, used to work there, but he now is a mortgage loan originator with AmeriServ and operates in the same building as Fred Miller Group.
Fred and his wife Carol — she’s the boys’ stepmother — opened Fred Miller Group in 1995 after a long career in marketing and advertising.
“I always enjoyed buying and selling my homes,” said Fred. “Sometimes there was a Realtor involved and sometimes not. I’ve always enjoyed architecture and design/build. Even interior design to some degree.”
Ted was a lobbyist in Tallahassee for five years before he joined the company in 1997.
“Ted is primarily an outside sales generator,” said Fred. “But in the process, he works with our agents and helps them with their business. He recruits, trains and sells.”
He said he decided to join his dad because he always had an interest in working in a family business.
“I lived away from Jacksonville for about 10 years for school and then for work,” said Ted. “I missed Jacksonville and wanted to return home. Dad had started the company so I knew he was doing this. I’ve always had a genuine interest in people, sales and problem solving. It was time to come home and I had always had an interest in working in a family business. Throughout our childhood, my father had worked in his family’s business and I just had a real interest in that and real estate.”
Though Nathan recently joined the company, he brings a lot of experience with him.
“Nathan brings a tremendous background to this business since he was in the building industry and built over 200 homes while with Arvida and then with Re/Max Specialists,” said Fred.
Nathan decided he wanted to be the guy who put together the deals rather than the guy who actually built the house
“So that led me into real estate and to working with my dad,” said Nathan.
The boys agree: Fred is a great father.
“I may not tell him this enough, but he did give me, Ted and Matthew a lot of time,” said Nathan. “He spent a ton of time with us while we were growing up.”
Fred oversees the financial part of the business as well as listing and selling real estate.
“I try to bring an overall perspective of success, positive attitude and cooperation among the associates,” said Fred. “I love working and I do love what I do, but I envision turning this over to Ted and Nathan within the next three to five years.”
They have a lot of common interests outside of the professional environment.
“We hunt, fish and take our kids camping,” said Ted. “We are all very professional and our work ethic is very similar and we work well together.”
Nathan said they all have a love and respect for each other that comes first and foremost before business.
“The working together thing works itself out because it is based on that love and respect,” said Nathan. “It works because that is there.”
Fred said the best way to pass the torch onto his sons is to ‘load them up’.
“I just turn things over to them because I know they can do it,” said Fred.
Fred and his sons had talked about working together someday.
“It was something we talked about when we were younger,” said Ted. “If we were ever going to work in a family business, he would want us to go out and do some different things and get some different experiences before coming back together.
“I think that was very good for me to do that because it makes me appreciate what I have here. There are some different dynamics to working with your father, but to me there is nothing negative about it.”
Fred said his boys are consummate professionals.
“I learn from them every week,” said Fred. “The best thing about working with them is the pride that I have every day and seeing everything that I had hoped for in children materialize. They are church men, good husbands and fathers and productive in life and in their careers.”
Ted said the best thing about working with his father is enjoying the successes and working together through the challenges.
“Sharing in the good times and the bad,” said Ted. “We are working together to build something that is meaningful and I can’t imagine better partners.”
Glen and Andy Reynolds, Andy Reynolds Homes
Growing up in the building business, Andy Reynolds hoped that one day he and his father would work together in some capacity.
“I started sweeping houses when I was real little and as I got a little bit older I’d work on framing crews over the summers,” said the owner of Andy Reynolds Homes. “I started my own framing business after high school in 1993. I also started a trim company and got my contractor’s license in 2003 and started building houses.”
He opened Andy Reynolds Homes in 2003 and his father, Glen Reynolds, came to work with him three years ago.
Glen opened his own building company, Glen T. Reynolds Custom Homes, in 1974. He sold the company to Engle Homes and stayed on for eight years until he joined his son.
“We do everything,” said Andy. “He draws all the plans and works on pricing the houses out. We both meet with the customers, it’s just us here.”
They get along well, both say.
“I’m sure I try and tell him too much,” said Glen. “It’s from all the history. God knows how many houses I’ve built. It’s probably 2,000. I have quite a bit of experience and I try to share it.”
Glen said since Andy has had his own business, he is strong-headed and used to doing his own thing, but it all works out.
“I’ve never had to opportunity to work with him through everything,” said Andy. “When he worked for nationals, my company would work for the company he worked for as a finish carpenter. We’ve never been able to work together until now. I’ve actually been able to learn the whole construction process from him.”
It may be Andy’s name on the company, but they say they definitely work as a team.
“It’s good to be able to get the Reynolds name back out there. During the 1980s, he was one of the biggest builders in town and everyone knows his name,” said Andy. “For a span there, while he was working for nationals, the name wasn’t out there, so we are rebranding ourselves and letting them know we are back.”
Andy likes to draw on the experience his father has and comes to him often for his opinion.
“Of course I’m going to lean on someone who has had more experience than me,” said Andy. “I won’t have that experience until I’m 67 years old, too. With everything you in this business, you learn something new every day.”
Andy and Glen spend a lot of family time together and yes, business is sometimes discussed during those times.
“My whole family is in the construction business,” said Andy. “We are builders and my sister and mom are interior decorators.”
Andy said the best thing about working with his father is getting to draw on his experience and the fact they get to work together in the same company every day.
“I can be a little overbearing sometimes,” said Glen. “We have a very close family and I love the fact that I can be with my son every day.”
W. Howard and Jason White, North Florida Builders
Jason White, president and owner of North Florida Builders (formerly JW Custom Homes,) a custom home building company on the Southside, started sweeping houses when he was 14 years old while working for his dad. He worked his way up in the company learning the ropes along the way.
His father, W. Howard White, started the original North Florida Builders in 1977, the year Jason was born. He came to work full-time with his son a little over a year ago but has been a strong consultant since the company opened in 2005.
Amid the sawdust and pounding of nails, he learned a very powerful lesson from his father: know your costs.
“That is probably where my dad and I work best together, knowing our costs and margins,” said Jason. “We get along excellently. Of course, we butt heads here and there, but he’s been there and done it and I value his opinion. I can ask him anything from a construction, business and marketing standpoint and he will help me. He’s been in it my whole life.”
Their relationship has grown into more of an equal respect-based relationship.
“We’re best friends,” said Howard. “I came in full-time in March 2011 to see if I could bring any value to the company and help him price houses and be an extra set of eyes. I have some experience, obviously. I know what it takes to stay in business. You have to make a profit. If you don’t know your costs, you don’t know if you’ll ever make a profit.”
But when issues arise, they handle them out of the office.
“When we do have issues or disagreements, we meet after work and sit down and talk about it,” said Jason. “We take it out of the workplace and sit in a relaxed environment and talk about all the pros and cons of whatever it is. At first we were talking over each other because I was used to doing things my way and meeting with customers by myself and he was coming in and he had his way of talking and I had my way of talking. It was a little rocky at meetings, but we’ve realized we are better as a team. That’s the key to this whole business — working as a team.”
Howard said he has to allow his son to learn the business by stepping back a bit and learning on his own.
“I had to realize that he’s my son, but he’s his own boss,” said Howard. “I’m not his boss. I’m just here to help him. I probably push too much and he doesn’t want to hear it. I may have more experience, but he’s not always going to take my advice based on the fact that I don’t know all the circumstances with a customer. So I may say ‘I’d do this or I did this’. I don’t know all the dynamics going on, so he still has to make his own decision.”
Howard said the best thing about working with his son is that he is his son.
“I mean, how often does that happen in a lifetime?” said Howard. “The worst thing is to see him hurt or to watch him learn from his mistakes. I can’t avoid that part. He does a better job with customers than I ever did and he builds a better house than I ever built. I’m very proud of him.”
After a very successful run, Howard sold North Florida Builders to Woodside Homes in 2004. Howard stayed on for two years and then “retired” for short time until he and a partner opened BiltRite, a construction quality assurance company in 2008.
Jason went back to school to finish his bachelor’s degree in business finance at the University of North Florida. He then opened his own company, JW Custom Homes, in 2005 and changed the name to North Florida Builders about two years ago.
“I got it back and was so thankful to get the name back,” said Jason. “I knew it had mileage and that my dad had worked really hard to earn the reputation of building good quality homes.”
Howard was more of a strong consultant while Jason learned the ropes of owning his own company.
“On every job I took, I’d have him come over and look over the budgets and make sure I was in line and check everything,” said Jason. “Now he goes to meetings with me and has helped me put deals together from start to finish. Our role together is to work as a team. I’ve done this my whole life and I do love building houses.”
Jason said the best part of working with his dad is getting to see him on a daily basis.
“To be able to get the same satisfaction when we have a happy customer when we make a deal happen and sell a house,” said Jason. “It’s a celebratory moment together. It’s a big deal these days to sell a house. We have a big family celebration dinner afterwards.”
Jason said the only downside, if there is one, is that Howard is a type A plus plus personality.
“It will be Friday night about 8 p.m., and there will be a conversation with my dad about work,” said Jason. “I’m not thinking about work at 8 p.m. on a Friday night. But, it’s a good thing in a way that I have someone always thinking about my company and how to better the company.”
Howard agreed that he can be a little pushy sometimes.
“I can be very overbearing because I think I’m a visionary,” said Howard. “God has gifted me with the ability to see the end real quick. When you do that, you get there a lot quicker than most people. I don’t have a lot of in-between in my thought process, so I have to temper that because he needs to go through it himself. I share my experience and my opinion and he has to take that and make it work in his own paradigm.”