Published: June 29, 2021 | Updated: June 28, 2021

Building a family business for generations

The Titan Spring building.

The Titan Spring building.

“I was supposed to tank the business.”

“There is a theory that the 3rd generation owner of the family business is the one that screws everything up”, said Vince DeSantis. Statistics do show that 30% of family businesses get passed to the second generation and 10-15% to the third generation. Just 3% of family businesses make it past the third generation.

But Vince knows that Titan Spring is an outlier, one that stands outside the regular data, an anomaly. The Titans, in Greek mythology, are of a family of Giants that stand out for their greatness and achievement.

Family business is in the blood

Vince started working on the ‘grinding floor’ of the factory as a young teenager. He spent summers going to work with mom, who was the CFO. His on the job training included figuring out how to not cut off his fingers – which is something he nearly did – but only once.

Founded in 1957 by grandfather, Joseph W. Park, Titan has been supplying springs to the aerospace and defense industries for over half a century. Park, a physics professor turned master spring maker, accepted any challenge the industry presented. His ‘can do’ attitude led to the development of a wide variety springs and a company mindset to meet their customers’ needs, whatever they were.

Vince found that, much like his grandfather, he loved tackling problems and finding solutions. There was great pride in going beyond the springs of childhood; clocks, wind-up toys, mechanical pencils, and Slinkys, to supplying seatback magazine holders to Weber Aircraft and hard to source spares to the Military.

Family on and off the factory floor

Vince admits there are challenges in family members running a business together. “Some of our greatest challenges are spending time together outside of work. After spending so much time working together, we have to remember to take time to see each other outside of work. But we are a family first, and luckily we all get along.”

With Stepdad Jim as CEO, Mom as CFO and Vince as VP of Operations, it definitely helped that each knew their roles and kept in their own lanes. “We took ownership of our own areas and didn’t cross into each other’s territory,” Vince says.

Ownership and family mentality reach far beyond company leadership.

“We’re a tight-knit group,” says Vince.

When the family announced they were relocating the business to CDA ID, their employees decided they were coming too.

“We knew we couldn’t just leave them all behind. We all came together,” Vince says.

There is great energy and enthusiasm in moving your whole ‘factory family.’ All in all, 15 employees and their families relocated with the family business.

What an established business learns from an SBDC coach

Shortly after arriving in Idaho, Vince’s parents began eyeing the many ways to spend retirement in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. But with no real succession plan in place, Mom and Dad were unsure how - and if - they could hand over the reins.

After being introduced to North Idaho College’s SBDC director, Bill Jhung, Dad signed them up to attend the Entrepreneurial Leadership series, as a family, of course.

“We’re all street kids," says Vince,.“You won’t find any MBAs making executive decisions here. We just learned as we went.”

They figured they could learn a few things from coaching, including how to plan to pass off the baton.

As a well-established business they had an established customer base and loyal employees, but their mature industry struggled with low profit margins.

The Entrepreneurial Series drove the family to evaluate the business and their industry objectively to improve what and how they were doing business. Instead of viewing financials as a sort of report card that showed how the business did the previous year, Vince began to set profit goals and shifted focus on markets and customers who would help them meet those goals.

It was then that Vince and his team were able to drive the business, rather than be led by the conditions of the industry and economy. Results were extraordinary.

“When we learned how to set up goals, with monthly and quarterly milestones and then hit those goals is when we realized - hey, this really works!” Vince says.

Lane adjustments

As is customary in a family business, each member took care of their own area of responsibility and tended not to cross into each other’s lanes. So major changes across the company were difficult to implement. For the company to achieve the goals they were setting, there needed to be a clear idea of company leadership.

“You think you are doing your company justice by being in the foxhole and fighting the fight, but if there is no one as the General — no one planning the fight - then you are in trouble,” says Vince.

“What was really helpful when we met Bill was being able to get out of the foxhole and see the field. We needed to be able to look down range and see what was coming at us.”

Looking down the range

Vince has since taken the helm. Stepping back and looking at the big picture has allowed him to envision a new future for Titan Spring. His leadership has led Titan to new levels of performance and growth.

Whatever the duration of a typical family-owned business, the spring business is eternal. Today, Titan offers everything from miniature welding to intricate machined assemblies. They build inexpensive prototypes and provide continuous training programs for employees. Advanced industry certifications offer them an extra edge in attracting new clients and securing contracts, preparing them well for the next generation.

Vince knows that the challenges faced every day bring out the best, whether it’s on the factory floor or in the family room. Titan Spring has had some of the best creative minds solve problems to meet customer needs that reach them all to new heights. Their factory family is not too big to cultivate creativity and share in each other’s achievements.

In the end, what makes their business successful is their focus on family delivering meaningful solutions to their customers. When asked what advice Vince would share with business owners, he said: “Take care of your family, take care of your people and they will take care of you.”

Learn more about business coaching with North Idaho Small Business Development Center.

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