Nina Vaca, the founder and CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources, in Dallas, knows what it’s like to run a family-owned business.
When she was 17, she took over her parents’ travel agency after her father was murdered at work.
She sold that business to attend college. Today, however, Vaca leads one of the most successful Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S., a technology outsourcing and staffing firm with revenues of about $250 million for 2012. She says the lessons she learned from home are still at play, particularly since her brother, sisters, and husband all work in key management positions for her.
And those lessons were on display during a morning session where Vaca addressed entrepreneurs attending the Inc. 500 conference in Phoenix on Friday.
"I had a front row seat to entrepreneurship, watching what it really takes to build a business and understanding that in this country you can do anything you want, if you are willing to make a sacrifice," Vaca said.
First and foremost, it takes confidence to lead family members at work, as that may not be your role at home or with your relatives, Vaca said.
In order for things to work out, you must have unconditional respect for each other and the talents everyone brings to the table, Vaca said. It also means delegating to them if you happen to be the boss.
"I have learned that true leaders understand that they alone don’t know all the answers, and they know how to surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are," Vaca said.
You may, rightly or wrongly, hold family members under a more intense microscope than non-family employees, and set the bar for their performance at a much higher level.
So perspective and taking the long view are critical. Vaca said she and the family members she works with make a special effort to avoid knee-jerk responses that might provoke angry situations. If difficult situations arise, she’s learned it’s important for everyone to take at least a day to think things through before coming together to make a decision. Customers, especially, will want to know that the family is united in a common vision for the company, Vaca said.
Long-term planning is also vital, to insure the business is there for younger generations of the family who may wish to enter it, Vaca said. That includes proper estate and tax contingency planning.
"My father dreamed of his family working together, and I would like Pinnacle to be a legacy company," Vaca said.