We'll never know whether Arthur Lacerte ever imagined what might become of his descendants. Though many entrepreneurs are visionaries, how could Lacerte possibly have dreamed that the humble general store he opened in central Canada shortly after the turn of the 19th century would inspire generation after generation of Lacertes to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps?
The origin of that entrepreneurial drive appears to be both nature and nurture. One of the most recent Lacertes to build his own business, Rene, says he knew from the time he was a kid, listening to his father and his grandfather at the dinner table, that he wanted to start a company. "I learned more from them at dinner than you can get from an M.B.A.," he says. Sometimes, they'd even ask his advice: "They taught me to be an active listener, and they made me feel respected. I try to do the same for my employees and my customers."
Below you'll meet the Lacertes and learn some of their family secrets. From Arcel, a serial entrepreneur who founded five companies, to brothers Larry and Phil, who sold their software company for $400 million, to Rene, who built a payroll services company, the Lacertes have made building businesses a family tradition. It's been almost a century since Arthur decided to set up his shop, and the Lacertes have started a total of 14 companies all over North America.
Remarkably, almost all the Lacertes paved their own way. With the exception of Arthur's son Arcel, who made a special bargain with his father for start-up capital, all of the Lacertes started their businesses with their own money. Perhaps even more remarkably, each generation has been offered the same choice, either to take over an existing family business or to go off alone and start something new. And generation after generation, every Lacerte has made the same choice -- to start something new.
One might say that, for the Lacertes, the real family business is starting one's own company.
[ Father ]
Arthur Joseph (1881-1964)
Companies Founded: ONE: a general store in St. Anne, Manitoba, Canada (1910). He ran the same business for nearly 40 years with his wife, Leonie.
Launching the legacy: Arthur told his son Arcel that whatever money he earned on his first job (teaching English to North American Indian tribes), Arthur would match it to help Arcel open his own business. When Arcel supplemented his income by trading with the Indians and came home with several times what he was supposed to be making, Arthur kept his word and matched the earnings.
[ Son ]
Arcel Leon (1917-1996)
Companies Founded: Five: a general store in Fannestelle, Manitoba, Canada (1939); Aetna Distributors, a farming equipment firm in Winnipeg (1947); Superior Motors, a farming equipment and automobile company in Stafford, Kansas (1952); Midland Sales, a citrus business in Winter Haven, Fla. (1956); and Data Corp. of America, an accounting and payroll services company also in Winter Haven (1960).
CFO: Arcel's wife, Rita, handled the accounting and general finances for every venture.
When He First Retired: Age 27. His general store (with a side business of farming wheat) was extremely profitable. But after nine months, he was so bored that he decided to start Aetna Distributors.
Oops 1: After selling its equipment internationally, Aetna determined there was a defect in the machinery and all of it had to be recalled and replaced. Arcel sold the company and moved to Kansas to start Superior Motors.
Oops 2: A big drought led to a falloff in the sale of farm equipment. After floundering for four years in Kansas, Arcel took what was left of his savings and moved to Florida to try the citrus business.
Leaving on a High Note: In 1979, he sold his accounting and payroll services firm -- which had an annual revenue of about $5 million and more than 100 employees -- to Automatic Data Processing.
[ Son ]
Rael (b. 1919)
Companies Founded: One: Data Processing Bureau of California, a data processing firm in Los Angeles (1961). =
Branching Out: After working at brother Arcel's Data Corp. of America, Rael moved to California and started his own version of the firm, where many of his children helped out.
Cashing Out: He sold his company to a conglomerate called Itel in 1971.
Claudette (b. 1942)
Helps run husband's firm.
[ Grandson ]
Grant (b. 1944)
Companies Founded: Two: Financial Research Associates, which compiled small-business data for accountants in McLean, Va., and later Winter Haven, Fla. (1977); and Certa Data Corp., a payroll services firm, also in Winter Haven (1990).
The Creative Spirit: Before he started his first business, Grant was a country musician who played with country legend Gram Parsons in a band called the Lamplighters.
[ Grandson ]
Art (b. 1941)
Companies Founded: Two: Advantage Software, an accounting software company in Anaheim, Calif. (1977), and Basic Computer Systems, a software integration firm also in Anaheim (1977). Advantage Software recently acquired another firm and has 36 employees.
[ Grandsons ]
Larry (b. 1955), Philip (b. 1946)
Companies Founded: One: Lacerte Software, which started in Long Beach, Calif., moved to Dallas and sells tax-prep software for accountants (1978).
Cashing Out: To date, Lacerte Software has been one of the family's most lucrative ventures. In 1999, Larry and Phil sold their company, which employed more than 300 people, to Intuit for $400 million in cash.
[ Great-Granddaughter ]
Coleen McKenna (b. 1971)
Companies Founded: One: Sisu Media, a graphic design studio and marketing firm in Culver City, Calif. (2002). Sisu Media handles Web design, logos, branding, and marketing for companies big and small.
Born for This: Though she worked at larger corporate marketing firms before starting her own, Coleen says she always wanted to start a business. "It's in the blood," she says.
Biggest Influence: Her grandfather Arcel. "It's hard to think of a way that he didn't influence the way I run my business," she says. The case studies he would present at the dinner table had a huge impact, she says: "He'd throw out a business problem, and then take us through the process of analyzing it." That's where she learned risk analysis. "He'd help us understand when to say, 'Okay, this is risky, but it's worth doing anyway."
Family Equity: Coleen says she was always considered equal to the boys when it came to business. "I never felt left out," she says. "They treated me like I could do this too."
[ Great-Grandson ]
Rene (b. 1967)
Companies Founded: One: PayCycle, a payroll services company with 46 employees and more than 10,000 customers, in Palo Alto, Calif. (1999).
Self-starter: Rene started his company "with the money in my back pocket." His first office was a closet with no windows. His first furniture purchases were card tables and chairs he bought from Costco. "We have cubicles now, but we still use those card tables," he says proudly.
Alec (b. 2003)
Companies Founded: None...yet.