Here is a brief look at some of the recent news stories that featured Neeley students, staff and faculty. For a complete look at Neeley in the News, check out In the News Archives.

December 22, 2013
Ethics, Vandergriff awards named at Fort Worth Chamber event  - By Lee Graham

Two Tarrant County firms have received the 2013 Greater Tarrant Business Ethics Award from the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Announced Wednesday Dec. 11 at Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley’s State of the County address at Cendera Center were Teneo Linguistics Co. LLC and TriQuest Techologies Inc.

Also at the event, Sundance Square received the Vangergriff Award for 2013. The award honors the late Tom Vandergriff, best known as Mayor of Arlington, who supported the area by working on a variety of projects including the Texas Rangers, a General Motors automotive plant and Six Flags Over Texas.
Sundance Square’s Edward Bass said his group began working to revive downtown because it is “the heart of our city, our county seat.”

Co-ethics award winner Teneo, a full-service foreign language translation agency, is overseen by CEO Hana Laurenzo, with Gary Tonniges Jr. serving as president of TriQuest, which provides customized IT services to mid-size and small businesses.

“I have no doubt there are many businesses that operate in a forthright manner here in Tarrant County,” said Guy Cumbie, president of Cumbie Advisory Services Inc. and a member of the Greater Tarrant Business Ethics Awards committee, commenting in a news release.

“However, the moral principles guiding those philosophies and the tangible set of practices employed by the companies recognized were clearly demonstrated in response to a rigorous application process,” Cumbie said.
Award criteria are clear communication of the company’s ethical standards; transparent, honest and fair business practices; and a code of ethics, credo, code of conduct or mission statement that clearly spells out the company’s requirement for honesty, integrity and compliance with the law in all business dealings.

Judging each applicant was a panel of business owners and professionals. The Greater Tarrant Business Ethics Awards are presented by BB&T. Platinum sponsors are Bourland, Wall & Wenzel, P.C. and Th!nk Finance. Partners include the TCU Neeley School of Business, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, the Society of Financial Service Professionals, the Financial Planning Association of Dallas/Fort Worth, and the Fort Worth Business Press.

Dallas News
December 21, 2013
Four generations of family have owned, operated Dallas Plumbing Co. - By Hanah Cho

Ward Downs joined Dallas Plumbing Co. as an apprentice in 1913. He soon bought the company. His son, Fred, joined the company after World War II. Several decades later, Fred’s sons, John and Mike, came on board. Today, customers also can find John’s four children working in the family business.

The family has received overtures from outsiders to sell the business over the years, but Dallas Plumbing has remained firmly in family hands for a century.

“To be any kind of a business and be around that long and to be a family business on top of that, I think people are surprised,” said Mike Downs, 54, Dallas Plumbing’s vice president.

Indeed, it’s rare for a business to be family-run over several generations, according to one academic researcher. Fewer than 1 percent of family businesses survive into a fourth generation, said Joseph Astrachan, executive director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

“Multigenerational business of any kind is in a very small minority,” he said.

Family-owned businesses represent roughly 64 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, Astrachan found. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, for instance, is family-owned.

Family ownership and management is a point of pride for the Downses.

“Because we have been in business for so long, we have customers that are second and third generations just like we are third and fourth generation,” said president John Downs, 69, older brother of Mike.

While mixing family with business can be rife with conflicts, a Texas Christian University management professor sees it differently.

“It could give firms a very powerful competitive edge when firms are facing economic strife,” said Jon Carr, associate professor of management at TCU’s Neeley School of Business and associate editor of Family Business Review.

“It’s easy for a nonfamily firm to say, ‘Every man for himself.’ Even for a family noted for conflict, they’re also able to support one another as it goes through difficult times.”

Carr also points to ties that a longtime family business has with the community and its employees.

110 years of business

Founded in 1903, Dallas Plumbing Co. is celebrating its 110th anniversary. The company employs about 100 workers and is profitable, John Downs said.

The firm also has a rich connection to some of the most well-known landmarks in the Dallas region. According to an old clipping from The Dallas Morning News, the company installed the plumbing for Highland Park Village, which opened in 1931. It also did plumbing and ventilation work on several buildings for the Texas Centennial Central Exposition at Fair Park in 1936.

John Downs joined the company after college in 1966 after turning down job offers from larger companies.

He said he felt no pressure from his father, Fred, to join the family business. Instead, John liked the idea of working for a smaller company.

“My father basically said, ‘I don’t expect you to come work here. You would probably be better off working somewhere else because a family business is hard.’ He was living it,” he recalled.

At the time, John’s father and grandfather were running the company.

Likewise, John placed no expectations on his children.

“It just evolved. I didn’t expect it at all. It just happened,” he said.

All four of his children work at the company. Two worked elsewhere and then joined the company.

Three of the four carry the title of vice president with specific roles.

Cindy Downs is in charge of human resources, insurance and safety. Her husband, Mark Wissler, is also a manager at Dallas Plumbing.

As the oldest child, Cindy wanted to return to Dallas after a short stint in San Diego. She sent her résumé to her father for some contacts in the construction industry. John, instead, asked whether she would be interested in working in the company’s retail showroom. That was in 1991.

“I heard about family companies, and I didn’t know how it would work,” Cindy said. “I decided to give it a try, and here I am.”

‘It’s an adventure’

Running a business is hard enough. Adding family dynamics can add another dimension to the mix.

“It’s an adventure but we’re all good people,” Mike Downs said. “It’s not as hard as you would think. We have our moments, but overall we have a lot of respect for each other.”

The Downs family uses several strategies to minimize potential issues. Members keep business and family separate. That means not talking about business at lunch or over a Thanksgiving meal. To resolve conflict or differences of opinion, a management committee of family and nonfamily members votes on the matter. The majority rules, John said. The company’s board of directors includes one nonfamily member. It also has established a succession plan for John to avoid potential issues.

Younger brother Mike and daughter Cindy will eventually co-manage the company. No specific timeline has been set, but John has scaled back his workweek to three days.

John learned the importance of succession planning when his father unexpectedly died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1981. At the time, John and another brother were helping to run the company. The brother wanted to split the business, but other family members, including the grandfather, nixed the idea. The family bought out that brother’s interest and he left.

“What happened in that situation made it more important for my dad that all our ducks are in a row,” Cindy said.

Besides the evolving family-business dynamics, the company has weathered the ups and downs of the economy, technological shifts and whims of the marketplace.

Dallas Plumbing added heating, ventilation and air- conditioning installation and maintenance services in the 1950s. The company also has a retail showroom for faucets, sinks, tubs and toilets. During the residential housing downturn, the company focused more on finding commercial work. Maintenance work has remained consistent over the years, John said.

“One of the reasons that we’ve managed to be successful for all these years is the fact that we’ve never tried to do one thing. We’ll do whatever that’s available, so to speak,” he said.

Dallas Plumbing explored a few buyout offers during the 1990s. At that time, several smaller and family-owned HVAC and plumbing businesses were selling out.

“We seriously considered one of the offers because it was a very good offer,” John recalled. “In the end, we couldn’t see losing control and still be invested financially. It was really hard to do that.”

With 110 years under the company’s belt, is there a fifth-generation Downs family member waiting in the wings?

Possibly, said Cindy, whose 20-something daughter occasionally works part time at the company. Cindy’s siblings have younger children.

For now, the family is focused on today.

“I just want it to be as good as it could be while I’m here,” Mike said.