How to Fire Your Family: The Ins and Outs of a Multigenerational Business with Chad Felderhoff
Business was good but could always be better. That’s what Chad Felderhoff remembers thinking as he grew up working hard in the multigenerational company his family runs.
Their building is the tallest in town. Other than the water tower, it is the one landmark that stands out against that Texas sky, serving as a constant reminder to Chad that there is work to be done.
Today he and his brother Mitch are in command of the Muenster Milling Company. They are leading it through the upheaval of the Coronavirus climate just as they led it through the upheaval of every other turbulent time – just as their family has done for generations. Business is still good – great, in fact – but they still believe it can be better, and they are pulling out all the stops to do so.
“Can’t just means you don’t want to.”
That was his parents’ most repeated phrase as they raised their kids, and it sticks with Chad today. No matter what the challenge, when he holds it up against his parents’ words, he finds the perspective to push through any struggle.
Sometimes that means showing up at college smelling like manure, or moving 11 times in 7 years. Sometimes that means firing his parents. And once, for his brother Mitch, it meant eating nothing but dog food for 30 days.
Those may seem like unthinkable steps to take for many people, but Chad’s family has a long history of doing whatever it takes to adapt and overcome. His great grandfather opened the company as a flour mill in 1932, smack dab in the midst of the Great Depression. Two years later, as the country continued to struggle, his great grandfather discovered a bigger opportunity and switched his company to grain production.
While Wall Street spiraled downward and many Americans lived in poverty, Muenster Milling thrived.
It did so well that his great grandfather made a detour on a grain delivery one day, stopping to buy a Cadillac as a surprise for his wife. But just when he decided to savor his success with that surprise gift, he was killed in a tragic accident on his way home. The Cadillac was delivered as a surprise, on the day of his funeral.
Chad’s widowed great grandmother leased the company out, and her kids worked for the new bosses. His grandpa grew up and went to war. Upon his return, he stepped into the role as head of the family business. That’s when his grandmother became his secret partner in a lucrative side hustle, and the couple grew a successful bootlegging business.
By the time Chad’s dad was old enough to assume command, the Felderhoff family had a proven track record of innovation and creativity. His dad carried on the tradition his own way, leading the industry by taking his own risk and adding an extruder while other companies didn’t dare. For years, the company continued its record of success, although not necessarily growing beyond its initial surge.
Chad Felderhoff worked hard in the company as he grew up.
His parents demanded nothing but the best from their children and pushed them to meet those expectations. It was not the easy life Chad’s friends imagined it to be for him. While his friends opened presents on Christmas morning, Chad and his siblings would be delivering grain. He was expected to be the first to work and the last to leave. It is an excellent work ethic that served him well over the years, but one which also proved a problem in later ones.
Chad built his own corporate career, far from the family business, and went all-in on it. This meant his wife also had to be all-in, as it required moving several times while building a family as well. It would all be worth it, he thought. But it didn’t turn out that way. The realization that the path he’d chosen was in fact a dead end for him meant he had a decision to make. After all the years and effort he’d applied, it was time to take another path.If you’re not going forward, you’re going backward, because the world doesn’t stand still – Chad Felderhoff.Click To Tweet
For him and his family, the path forward was the family business.
Working with family can seem like the easy way out to those who have never done it. For Chad and his brother Mitch, it was anything but easy to return as adults and work with their parents. The generation gap became evident quickly.
Chad’s parents had 40 years in the business and were content to keep things simple as they eased into their golden years. Chad and Mitch, however, had different ideas.
The clashes began small and turned into epic standoffs. Chad and his mom were both determined to outwork the other. He would rush to get there before her and she refused to leave before him at night. Things got ugly before they got even uglier. An agreement was made for the sons to buy their parents out. This way they could make those moves and take those risks while their parents could continue working without the stress of those big moves on their shoulders.
After months of lawyers and negotiations and paperwork, Chad and Mitch became the official owners of Muenster Milling. That should have been the end of the family issues, but old habits die hard and their parents’ habits were decades in the making. Tensions built to the point that Chad and Mitch fired their parents as gently and as firmly as they could.
“That made for a quiet Thanksgiving,” Chad laughs as he reflects back.
He and Mitch are a product of their parents’ upbringing and that upbringing is precisely what instilled an unwavering tenacity and work ethic that disrupted the family during the transition of control.
It was an experience the family came through and moved forward from. It also prepared Chad for the day his own children may decide to step in. He’s vowed to make that a smoother process, should it occur.
In the meantime, he and Mitch have settled into their roles and have taken their company down a creative path that caught national attention.
They rode a surge of success when they assumed control. That surge eventually plateaued, though, and plateaus are not acceptable to the brothers. Their shift to pet food was a good one, but how could they stand out from their competitors?
That’s when Mitch decided to eat nothing but their dog food for 30 days, and to document every day on video.
The move seemed crazy to some people. To Chad and Mitch, however, it fit right in with their family history of unusual strategic moves. It had similar results, too.
Mitch’s commitment to the challenge caught the attention of the internet and the national media. People around the country could not believe what they were seeing and they were fascinated by it. While Mitch made the rounds of media interviews, Chad doubled down on production, and sales doubled.
They were riding that high just as the Coronavirus swept into the country and took over the lives of Americans. Much like the days of the depression forced their great grandfather to outwit catastrophe, Chad and his brother have done the same.
With their indomitable will and the belief that “Can’t just means you don’t want to,” the brothers are leading their company into new growth while so many other companies buckle under the weight of COVID-19 restrictions and a depressed economy.
Muenster Milling increased their online presence and customer base.
They are swimming upstream in the tide of fear and scarcity thinking, and have the pedal to the metal while much of the country has hit the brakes.
To them, the current climate is “one big excuse” for people to give up on their dreams. They fully intend to hit 100 million dollars in revenue before their 88 year old company celebrates its 100th year in business.
The American Dream is alive and well in Chad Felderhoff’s family. He works harder than his competitors to make sure it stays that way. It’s all about the legacy he is building. He is determined to leave the foundation of his family stronger than ever and pass on the legacy of not just surviving in tough times, but thriving – even if he is the one who has to eat dog food the next time around.