An innovative solution for hesitant next-gen leaders

Ted Wentz (MBA '08)

Ted Wentz (MBA ’08)

Having a dad who’s larger than life – a Formula 4 European race car driver and founder of the family business – meant that Ted Wentz (MBA ’08) had some big shoes to fill as he contemplated returning to Quadratec, his family’s mail-order company that provides parts and accessories for Jeep auto enthusiasts.

Growing up in West Chester, Pa., Ted did not envision joining his family’s business. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in international affairs and was part of the first Department of Homeland Security team created just after 9/11.

After several years of working for the government, Ted realized that he was drawn to the management aspects of his job. He came to UNC Kenan-Flagler to earn an MBA, with plans to pursue management opportunities in the auto industry after graduation. As a student, he completed an internship with Toyota and was offered a full-time position with the company during his second year in the MBA program.

But the opportunity gave him pause. Did he want to go to a big corporation and hope to have an impact eventually? Or did he want to return to his family’s company, where he’d have an opportunity to apply the lessons he was learning in business school immediately and build something of his own?

After thinking about what he owed to Quadratec and the pride he took in what his family had built, Ted decided to return home and work in a two-year leadership rotation at Quadratec. From the beginning, he made it clear to all of the company’s management that he was NOT coming back to take their jobs; he was there to learn and contribute before doing something on his own. He left MBA-speak, attitude and dreams of a big corner office at the door and rolled up his sleeves to learn, cheerfully packing boxes, answering phone calls from customers and doing whatever was required to learn every aspect of the business. Needless to say, it was a very different route than what many of his classmates – who reported large salaries and other executive perks soon after graduation – took.

After completing the two-year rotation and months of brainstorming with valued company executives, Ted founded FireCraft, a grill supply mail order company, as a new division of Quadratec. Rather than securing funds from his family business, Ted chose to fund the venture with a personal loan, risking his own money for the personal satisfaction of building Firecraft on his own. But as he readily admits, he did have an advantage over most entrepreneurs: Firecraft shares facility, IT and warehouse costs with Quadratec.

Ted’s experience – successfully returning to the family business and fulfilling his goal of starting his own company – offers several key takeaways for next generation entrepreneurs who aspire to do the same.

Be humble when entering your family business.

Take time to get to know employees and let them get to know you. Communicate clearly about your role and their job security, and be aware of how certain perks – i.e., big offices, leaving early, etc. – may appear to others.

Learn the business.

Take time to learn every aspect of the business – even those that don’t interest you or seem particularly challenging.

Treat family members like fellow employees at work.

Ted treats his dad like his boss, which helps them avoid family issues at the office.

Communicate frequently about the business with your partner or spouse.

Be sure to discuss the risks, time and energy involved.

Find your own sense of accomplishment.

Listen to more insights from Ted here.

By Cooper Biersach (BA ’91, MBA/JD ’96), co-founder and director of the Family Enterprise Center

The Family Enterprise Center prepares next generation family business students for leadership and ownership in family firms.