The Family Business Nation™️ Radio Show: 2020

Jeffrey Smith and Dr. Donald Levitt are pleased to present The Family Business Nation™ Radio Show.

Family Business Nation™, broadcast on the last Wednesday of every month at 7:00 p.m., brings real family business stories and family business expertise to listeners.

Broadcast on Detroit’s 50,000-watt leader in news/talk radio, WJR 760AM -- "The Great Voice of the Great Lakes" -- The Family Business Nation Radio audience extends beyond Metropolitan Detroit to include Flint, Lansing, Toledo, Cleveland, and London, Ontario.

Please contact us to find out more about how we can help your family business.

Jan. 31



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What it looks like to be a "born entrepreneur."

Lisa Vallee-Smith, CEO of Airfoil Group. She was not “invited to the party“ to join the marketing firm owned by her father and run by her father and brothers. My whole young life I wanted to do what our neighbor did -- marketing. I am a PR nerd. I always wanted to be in public relations. My father, uncles, and brothers were “in the business.“ It seemed very exciting. But entering into the business stopped at my brothers. I felt like I was on the outside looking in on a fun party. At about 30 years old I made overtures to get into the family business, but at that point it was too late. This was probably for the best because it created my passion to become a business owner. It was a process of narrowing options. In my early 30s all my friends and family were married. I just wanted to work. I really enjoyed working. Since being an Avon Lady in middle school, I just genuinely loved making my own buck. It gave me a sense of pride, control, and ownership. And it was just plain fun. Not having the option of relying on a family business, or getting married and relying on someone else, I just focused on my career. I did all of my learning: I changed jobs every three years; I worked my way up. With Jeff we moved to New York City and I got my “experience MBA“. I immersed myself in the New York PR world. At 40 years old Jeff and I had young children. What was the next thing for me? I could go on working for other people. I was always very good at business development and sales. I saw this “white space“ in the early 2000’s at the height of the dot-com boom for a PR firm that was built from the ground up to meet the unique needs of technology companies. And that’s why I started Airfoil. The business grew and followed the trajectory of the technology industry overall. Airfoil is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. I’ve been so fortunate to witness the life-changing, disruptive technologies. (What is the unique value you bring to your clients?) Our mission is to help clients compete and succeed. Our clients operate in extremely complex and competitive industries. So there is an urgent business imperative. We help them with their battles: reputational; sales; de-positioning competitors. (10:48)

Starting a business.

I started my business in a month-to-month office at an accelerator in the Penobscot Building. It was a challenge, as a woman in business, to get a line of credit and to get credit cards. My husband Jeff came with me on my first visit to the bank. I saw a marketing opportunity, and there was no shortage of market opportunities for what we were offering. It was a challenge to hire four people and convinced them to leave their jobs for a start up. It was the best thing I ever did. (What was Jeff’s role?) He provided discipline; the voice of reality; business planning. I’m creative. He made me think about insurance, tax planning, legal documents, estate planning. It was a true partnership at every level. Jeff help regarding: incorporation, benefits, legal structure, CFO. Jeff: a spouse can listen to three levels: (1) allow the other to vent; (2) ask if advice is desired; (3) ask if help is desired.

Sean Cook is an attorney with Warner Norcross and Judd. His relationship with Lisa and Jeff started with estate planning when Lisa and Jeff were starting their respective businesses. Sean started by helping them with wills, trusts, and asset protection planning. (9:42)

How an attorney helps an entrepreneur and their family.

Sean Cook -- there are different ways an attorney helps an entrepreneur and their family: general counsel for the business; bring in experts as needed; corporate structure; protect assets; employment issues; expansion; lease; contractual. I get to know, overtime, their view on the world; their risk profiles. Sean quarterbacks the team of advisers.

Jeff was diagnosed with stage four metastatic prostate cancer five years ago. Pre-planning paid off, e.g., estate planning, so we could focus on the illness. (10:02)

How the second generation changes -- and grows -- the family business.

Denise Rays and Bob Rays with Three Star Trucking. Bob -- lessons learned from parents: work hard; be honest; be on time; deliver what you say. (How was Denise selected as CEO?) Each of us pointed to each other. Denise did not want it. (Growing the business). Denise said to Bob: “We have two choices: either we build this company, or we sell it.“ Let’s grow it. Our mother is very cautious with money. We had no loans or line of credit. We established a line of credit; bought more equipment; hired more people; got more freight. Bob handles business development and operations, and Denise handles administration. We are certified as a WBE -- Women's Business Enterprise.

Three best family business tips. (1) Lisa Vallee-Smith has the characteristics of a true entrepreneur. (2) Siblings: stay in your own lane. (3) The role of the entrepreneur's spouse. (8:47)

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