Small business: Becoming a family business paying off

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2008 - 10:12 PM

Jerry and Naomi Grohovsky saw growth take off at their technical-writing staffing company after taking the unexpected step of bringing their two daughters on board.


A turnaround got underway two years ago at JPG & Associates when Jerry Grohovsky and his wife, Naomi, hired their daughters: Lauren Grohovsky, second from left, and Emily Alverson, right. “The joke is, we should have had more kids so we could have more office staff,” Jerry Grohovsky says.

Photo: Joey McLeister, Star Tribune

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Business is growing now that it has become a family affair at JPG & Associates.

Revenue had been flat for the Lake Elmo technical-writing, staffing and consulting firm, even after hiring sales reps and opening an office in Iowa.

The turnaround began two years ago, when founders Jerry and Naomi Grohovsky did something they never expected to do -- they hired their daughters, Lauren and Emily, whose skills happened to fit the company's needs.

Recent college graduates, the sisters grew up with the company, which got its start in the family's basement in 1993, but they never expected to work there.

Their parents -- make that their employers -- credit the new hires with making the company more flexible and productive and with boosting sales.

Sales and marketing, which Jerry Grohovsky used to do single-handedly, is now a shared responsibility. So is recruiting new writers and other consultants and providing customer service. The young women also have brought in fresh ideas that have streamlined internal processes and procedures.

''We're elated," said their mother, who serves as the company's CEO and CFO. "Even though it wasn't something we had planned to do, it's worked out so well."

Company President Jerry Grohovsky said, "The joke is, we should have had more kids so we could have more office staff." The transition to a family business has brought positive results for JPG & Associates, which specializes in finding writers, artists and other professionals for companies that need staff to produce technical publications and websites.

Through June, the company had placed more consultants with client companies than in all of 2007, Jerry Grohovsky said. At any given time, JPG has 35 to 50 consultants, who work as contractors, assigned to client companies.

The company also does consulting on technical and general publication projects. A record number of new clients also have signed on, including five Fortune 500 companies. Other client companies are in such industries as medical device manufacturing, engineering and computer hardware and software.

Revenue this year is heading toward $3.5 million, up from $2.7 million last year.

The Grohovskys' daughters are happy with the move too. Lauren Grohovsky, who majored in marketing communications, focuses on marketing and administrative duties.

"I feel like I've worked here longer," she said. "They'd tell us about any problems they were having or successes or milestones they'd hit, so we always knew what was going on. So I feel like I've worked here longer than two years."

She was just finishing up college when an outside hire left the company, and her parents asked her to join. A few weeks later, a sales rep left, and the Grohovskys offered her sister a position. Emily Alverson, who is working on a master's degree in human-resource development at the University of St. Thomas, had worked in corporate jobs for a couple of years before going to the family firm as recruiter.

"They were such big companies that in the HR role I was in, I just got to do such a small portion of the job that it became very monotonous," she said. "It's really nice here, because with a small business everybody here wears multiple hats, so there's more variety.''

Parents and daughters alike have established ground rules, working to respect boundaries and keep their office and personal roles separate. The sisters have also had to learn how to interact as co-workers rather than as siblings.

Another challenge was making sure each daughter "understood that their job was not handed to them as an entitlement, but rather it was presented as an opportunity to learn, develop their careers and participate in helping to build a successful business," their father said.

Neither daughter felt pressure to work for the company, and neither feels pressure to stay long term.

"It's scary for us to commit to the next 35 years working here," said Emily, who, like her sister, also holds part-time retail jobs to interact with a larger group of co-workers. "We don't know what our parents' plans would be, if they would even want us to do that or if they would have other plans for the business. I'm still gaining valuable experience that I can use at a big or small company in the future."

Earlier efforts, such as hiring outsiders as sales reps and opening an office in the Des Moines area, were steps in the wrong direction, Jerry Grohovsky said.

The Twin Cities, outstate Minnesota and western Wisconsin offer plenty of room to grow. If anything, an office in the western metro might get some consideration.

Delegating sales to someone hired from outside proved difficult, because the company's brand is so closely identified with Jerry Grohovsky.

"There's a level of caring that we could never have from the outside, that our daughters have brought to it," he said.

The expert says: Ritch Sorenson, director of family enterprise at the University of St. Thomas, recommended that all four family members read "Family Business," by Ernesto Poza, a textbook used at St. Thomas. Once they do, then they can begin developing collaborative documents, which all family members discuss and agree to, such as the family constitution that Poza discusses.

That document sets out a vision, mission and purpose for the family, just as a business should have a vision, mission and purpose, Sorenson said.

"It lays out what they're trying to accomplish as a family and the rules and policies for the family related to the business," he said. "All those discussions, I think, will provide a foundation for working together as a family."

The other document they need to get started on is a succession plan, or at least a career development plan for the young women, Sorenson said. That doesn't mean that the Grohovsky daughters would have to work in the business; they instead could develop their abilities to serve as owners who oversee others who manage the company.

"The idea is that both the parents and the children need to do a lot of introspection to figure out what it is they want in the long run, talk about it and come up with a plan," Sorenson said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is

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