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The Abdo family at their MyBurger in Minneapolis. From left, John Abdo, Caryl and Larry Abdo, Bill and Mandy Sheahan, Corey Abdo, Oliver, Kristen, Lillian and Paul Abdo.

GLEN STUBBE , Star Tribune

Family, business inseparable for Abdos

  • Article by: Todd Nelson
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • February 16, 2014 - 1:02 PM

Attention, entrepreneurs: Balance business with family or risk losing one of them.

Serial entrepreneurs Larry and Caryl Abdo regularly share that message at dinners with students from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“An entrepreneur says he can do more than one thing at a time,” Larry Abdo said. “Let’s start with your relationship and your children and put them in absolute equal balance with your business.”

The Abdos have taken that advice through 43 years of marriage and in raising their four adult children who largely have taken the reins of the family’s numerous ventures, including:

• MyBurger, the burger joint that last year opened its third store, in Minneapolis’ Stadium Village near the University of Minnesota. Son John Abdo is president and CEO.

• The historic Nicollet Island Inn, purchased in 2005, managed by son Corey Abdo and site of the Abdos’ Carlson School dinners.

• Two long-running Minnesota State Fair vendors, Big Fat Bacon, which daughter Mandy Abdo Sheahan oversees, and Gopher State Ice Co., which the three Abdo brothers operate.

• Real estate developments, which son Paul Abdo manages. Projects include 6 Quebec, the condo and retail building in downtown Minneapolis where the first MyBurger opened in 2004 (the other is near Lake Calhoun) and the headquarters of Abdo Market House, the family’s holding company.

For all the businesses, Paul handles social media, Mandy directs marketing and public relations and Caryl serves as bookkeeper. Son-in-law Bill Sheahan is chief legal counsel and daughter-in-law Kristen Abdo manages MyBurger community relations.

Seeing kids every day

“We have included the kids in everything we’ve done, even when they were young,” Caryl Abdo said. And now “I get to see my kids every day of the week. My grandkids, they come to the office,” including granddaughter Lillie, already running a semi-imaginary doughnut shop with brother Oliver.

“We ended up with our children in our businesses because they don’t want to give up the Zen,” Larry Abdo said of the “entrepreneurial disease” that’s taken hold of the family.

“We would get bored and then we’d just start working,” Paul Abdo said, noting that earning money quickly became more interesting than, say, biking around the fairgrounds when he and his siblings were young.

Today, the focus is on building MyBurger into what could be a 50-store chain. “MyBurger is probably the best future that we have,” Larry Abdo said. A group of investors — contractors, architects and others working on MyBurger — is helping to drive expansion.

A key strategy at MyBurger, and every Abdo business, is creating an iconic brand. Minneapolis retail-branding agency Fame is doing that at MyBurger, which blends a consistent look and feel with neighborhood-specific elements at each location.

‘Building legacies’

“It’s a wonderful story about an entrepreneur who is building legacies for his children … making them stewards of the brands,” said Fame President Lynne Robertson, who persuaded the world’s largest advertising conglomerate to become a MyBurger equity partner. “As a branding person, that’s the best partner you can have, somebody who’s that passionate and that diligent about maintaining the magic of it.”

Larry Abdo shares that passion in regular visits to entrepreneurship classes at the University of Notre Dame, where both John and Mandy were students.

“Larry is just darn brilliant,” said Jeffrey Bernel, director of Notre Dame’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship. “What drives him day in and day out is family. He does everything he can to take care of his family.”

That means, in part, taking care of business, said Larry Abdo, who bristles at talk of exit strategies.

“It’s very much like dating when you come up with a [business] idea and very much like marriage when you start the thing,” Larry Abdo said. “Do you start a marriage or a relationship with the understanding that you can get out of it? If you’re not going to get rid of it, it better be the best it can possibly be. Commit at home, commit in the office. Then there’s no confusion. Life is simple.”

The expert says: John Stavig, director of the Carlson School’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, said the Abdo dinners offer valuable insight into managing the challenges of an entrepreneurial career.

“There are times when the business has to come first, but if you do it right and prioritize the family, over time it can be a wonderful experience,” Stavig said.

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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