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All in the family

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If the kids buy Dad a tie for Father’s Day, they probably never see him wear it; he puts it on when on his way out the door and takes it off as soon as he’s back for dinner.

But for many Albuquerqueans, seeing Dad in his tie is part of everyday life, because Dad is also boss, and, sooner or later, he’s going to pass his company to them.

It’s a situation rife with pitfalls, local families say, but it also brings families closer, shows children who their father really is and how hard he’s worked, and lets Dad pass a lifetime of knowledge and skill to the next generation.

The statistics show how difficult a family business can be to pull off: Only about 30 percent successfully transfer to a second generation, according to statistics cited by consulting group The Family Business Institute, and only 12 percent go on to a third.

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Now more than in the past, part of the reason owners have trouble keeping businesses in the family is children fleeing their hometowns, says James M. Parker, chair of the New Mexico Family Business Alliance.

For decades, kids have pursued their dreams elsewhere, but he says he knows more and more grown children who are staying close to home. He believes that will lead to an upswing in successful transitions for family businesses.

Ralph Hicks, 67, is adamant that he would never force his son David to work for his Albuquerque financial services company, Ralph Hicks & Associates. He just gave little nudges, mailing his now-31-year-old son career catalogs listing financial services as one of America’s top jobs.

David Hicks spent eight years becoming increasingly disenchanted with sports management and marketing work in Texas before relenting and returning home in 2009.

“For me, it’s strengthened the relationship between us,” David Hicks says. “Being here I think we’ve developed a good friendship, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know him on other levels that I wouldn’t normally.”

That’s also true for Lauren Kirkpatrick, 29, who returned to work for AAA Roofing Co., owned by her father, Tom Kirkpatrick, 59, after she graduated from Arizona State University in 2004.

“I never applied for anything else,” she says, explaining that when she was a young girl, she would visit her dad’s office with her younger sister and pretend to answer phones. “It was kind of an unwritten thing.”

For Rick Camuglia, 47, it was much the same story. He worked a couple of outside jobs while attending the University of New Mexico but took over Paisano’s Italian restaurant from his father, Joseph Camuglia, 77, in 1994, after working there since he was 10 years old. “I grew up in the restaurant,” he says.

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Making it work

Working with family isn’t easy, says Parker of the family business alliance, and requires a lot of communication, especially about succession.

After all, if you see your employees or co-workers at every birthday party, “it’s kind of like you’re never out of the office,” and even at work, “conflict occurs in families all the time.”

The Hickses had a rough time separating the two spheres of their relationship at first, they say, but as time wore on, they were better able to leave work at the office.

Businesses themselves often benefit from two generations working together, Parker says. Though Ralph Hicks saw a spurt of growth in the years before, his firm doubled in size in the year and a half since David’s return, and Tom Kirkpatrick “didn’t know how to turn a computer on” before hiring Lauren and her brother, Jeff, 30, current company president who will become its owner when his mom and dad retire, she says. Now, the company has a website and software to run more smoothly.

Like David Hicks, Lauren Kirkpatrick says her relationship with her dad has become more than it ever was before. “We’ve always been really, really close, but we’re just so much closer than we were when I was younger,” she says. “Seeing him in his element is amazing.”

She says she’s in awe of how hard he works and how much went into the life she took for granted growing up.

Joseph Camuglia says one of the best parts of working with his son is passing on the hard-earned knowledge about how to run a business — there are no rules chiseled in stone, he says, it’s all about honing a sixth sense for what to do next. He even wrote his son a manual before leaving him the restaurant.

Giving up a business can be difficult, Parker says, and many dads are reluctant to cede control to employees who they continue to see “as they were when they were teenagers.”

Of course, sometimes, dads are happy to pass their business — their life’s work of blood, sweat and tears — into the hands of someone they know and trust.

“I was giving up a child,” Joseph Camuglia jokes about handing Paisano’s to his son. “I was giving up a child to my child!”

But 17 years after Rick Camuglia took over, his dad has nothing but praise. “He’s done a fantastic job,” Joseph Camuglia says. “He’s made the business better.”

Ralph Hicks says he’s happy to let David “call an awful lot of plays” for the firm, knowing his clients will have someone they can trust when he’s no longer working.

“I guess men have some sort of a desire that what they’ve done with their life will matter after they’ve gone. For many of us, that won’t happen,” Ralph Hicks says. “But when you have your family in the business, the next generation, and you feel you’re passing something of value on to them, it gives you a special feeling, I think. It goes beyond just you.”

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