Balancing challenges, embracing rewards and coping with loss
Family businesses stand as pillars in global economies, making substantial contributions to job creation and economic prosperity. While the prospect of working in a family business offers advantages, it also presents its own set of trials. When a beloved family member — who is an integral part of the business — dies, it carries implications for both the company and the family.
Joe Dolnik, my father, has been a cornerstone of the hot tub industry for as long as my memory serves. He started his journey with Beachcomber Hot Tubs many years ago as chief operating officer. His mission was to expand this iconic Canadian brand on a global scale, even establishing a manufacturing facility in Vista, California.
My earliest personal involvement in this industry dates to 2003, coinciding with Beachcomber’s 25th-anniversary celebration — an event attended by Tony Robbins, the world-renowned life and business strategist, as the keynote speaker.
I was a mere 25 years old at the time, freshly graduated from university and exploring career paths unrelated to the wellness industry. Much to my chagrin, my father invited me to a private session with Robbins, where I joined several executives and senior management from Beachcomber.
To my profound embarrassment, my father posed a question to Robbins that centered on the evolving dynamics of a father-daughter relationship. It pertained to how he could support me in navigating the complexities of love, life and career while maintaining a paternal protective instinct. Although I don’t recall the specific counsel Robbins offered, I’ve since realized this marked the outset of an incredible journey with my father, one that only those working in a family business can fathom.
In 2007, my father introduced SilkBalance and its revolutionary water care product to North America. This product carved a new niche in spa water care management. SilkBalance remains unique; it’s fortified with several patents that protect its distinct formulations designed to transform how hot tub enthusiasts enjoy and maintain their water.
I vividly remember examining the initial images, marketing materials and business plan for SilkBalance. Little did I realize that in 2014, I would begin working side by side with my father in this venture.
My debut at the 2014 International Pool and Spa trade show in Orlando saw me stationed at the SilkBalance booth. At that time, I possessed minimal knowledge of the spa industry, but my father entrusted me with the task of greeting visitors, engaging in conversations and connecting them with our sales team. He imparted a piece of wisdom that has remained etched in my memory, “Susan, remember that every retailer carrying our products is invaluable, representing the cornerstone of SilkBalance’s success.”
One of the foremost challenges in a family business is traversing the blurred boundaries between familial roles and professional responsibilities. Family disputes or hierarchies can influence decision-making processes, and open communication becomes paramount.
However, achieving this level of communication can be particularly difficult. Inevitably, disputes arise in any workplace, but in a family business, these conflicts can strike a deeply personal chord. Discovering ways to resolve issues without endangering family relationships is critical.
Preparation for the future is vital for any business, including family enterprises. In 2020, my father retired from SilkBalance due to health issues, which necessitated a sudden shift in roles and responsibilities.
Family businesses often share a strong set of values and a visionary long-term outlook, fostering a sense of purpose and unwavering commitment. These enterprises frequently possess the agility to adapt swiftly to evolving market dynamics because the combination of generational experience and fresh perspectives promotes innovation and inventive problem-solving.
Notably, working closely with family members nurtures relationships and fosters trust, culminating in a supportive work environment.
Coping with loss
The passing of a family member actively engaged in the business evokes complex and emotionally charged circumstances, affecting both the enterprise and the family.
Initially, the response to the loss of a family member is marked by grief. My journey has seen me occupy my father’s former office for the past four years.
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Initially, this transition felt peculiar; for years, I had attended meetings in his office to discuss upcoming promotions, dealer visits, operational matters and financial decisions. His office held a certain aura, and I was accustomed to sitting on the opposite side of the desk. Now, as I sit in his chair, using his printer and handling items like his stapler, the connection to his legacy remains palpable.
Given his pivotal leadership role, his retirement meant I had to address the void he left behind: physically, professionally and, of course, emotionally.
I was blessed to be at his bedside when he died in August, surrounded by his family. Just six hours after his passing, I found myself at our SilkBalance office. As I sat in his chair — now my chair — I pored over old files, taking in the familiar sight of his handwriting. In those solitary moments, I reflected on our countless hours spent together in this space. To some, this may seem unconventional, but SilkBalance serves as a poignant reminder of the unique connection I shared with my father.
The pride I experienced while working alongside my father was an extraordinary and heartwarming sentiment transcending mere professional achievement. It was rooted in love, respect, unwavering dedication and the sense of continuity inherent in preserving and advancing the SilkBalance legacy.
I had the privilege of learning from my father, who served not only as my boss but also as a mentor. He shared a wealth of knowledge, skills and experiences honed over decades in our industry.
As I began sharing the news of my father’s passing among customers and vendors, I was reminded of the impact he had made. When I reached out to Megan Kendrick, the editor and publisher of this magazine, she recalled her first encounter with my father during the early days of SilkBalance at a trade show, back when she was new to the industry. She vividly recounted his warmth, openness and kindness.
I relish the stories shared by others who crossed paths with him at trade shows worldwide. Our dealers, whom my father had assisted in their business endeavors, now support me during this challenging time, recounting their humorous and uplifting anecdotes.
In a family business, a sense of belonging prevails. I always understood I was more than an employee; I was a custodian of the family heritage with a vested interest in the prosperity of the business. This connection, bridging past and future, ingrained a deep sense of responsibility in me.
Growing up in a family business exposed me to my father’s commitment to work. It served as a source of inspiration, motivating me to give my utmost and work diligently to uphold the SilkBalance name.
Joe was a terrific man and businessperson. He loved the hot tub industry and had a passion for giving customers a product that worked well, looked great on a shelf and helped make water care so much easier at a time when the market had little to offer that would. SilkBalance led the way for other products to come to market that did something similar, yet SilkBalance continued to stand out. He was also genuinely interested in the success of others and always wanted to do the right thing for folks. My thoughts are with his daughter Susan and the rest of his family. He is already missed.”
Don Riling, Olympic Hot Tub
We celebrated our successes together. Achievements and milestones held deeper meaning as my father was a constant source of support and guidance.
Ultimately, working alongside my father gave me a sense of personal fulfillment. I knew my contributions were not merely valued but also integral to the business’s success, and this sense of purpose has remained a driving force in my professional life.
I share this narrative because it underscores the importance of succession planning. Preparedness is crucial to ensure the business’s long-term viability.
Family businesses offer a unique and rewarding experience, one laden with challenges and advantages. Navigating the blend of family dynamics and business operations demands meticulous management, communication and foresight. When a working family member is lost, addressing these challenges and rewards while coping with grief necessitates sensitivity, resilience and a clear vision for the future. Family businesses that successfully navigate these complexities can flourish across generations, leaving a legacy that endures.
Thank you, Dad, for your contributions to this industry, your unwavering support, your profound impact and, most importantly, for believing in me.