My dad, Jim LeFaivre, formally began the exit process in 1999 after he'd owned the J.R. LeFaivre Construction Co. for 23 years. But I believe he had a plan in mind long before he actually set things in motion.
I joined the company full time in 1996. My role grew gradually and at my own pace. I began in the field, moved into the office to computerize the company files, then pursued an interest in architecture and took AutoCAD classes. Although sales was not a major interest, I became intrigued after making several sales calls with my father.
My first appointment was for a kitchen estimate. I sold the project on my second visit. I was very excited and wanted to learn more.
As time went on, Dad taught me more about sales and customer relations by discussing scenarios and allowing me to figure out how to handle them. Then we'd discuss the pros and cons of the decision.
Selling the Sales By directing me toward sales, Dad had given me the opportunity — without pressure — to take his business to a new level, a level set by my own goals. Feeling like a partner increased my drive and made me focus on being productive. Giving me this freedom was the most important thing my dad could have done. Our business revenues from 1997 to 1999 went from $450,000 to over $1 million.
In 1999 we began discussing my father's exit strategy. Dad asked if I wanted to take over the business when he was ready to retire, and I was excited about the opportunity. Although he had never forced any of his children to work in the business, it was his wish that one of the five of us would be interested in it. My sister Katie is our office manager. Within five years I will take complete control of our company.
Even after 23 years in the business, Dad rarely took time off — maybe a week each year, if he was lucky. Since our plan has been in place, Dad has had time to pursue outside interests such as riding his Harley, hanging out on his boat, and spending time at his home near the Chesapeake Bay. He now works three or four days a week and spends many summer days on the water.
Yet every year the business continues to grow in volume, and I continue to gain the skills necessary to keep it headed in that direction. The new kitchen and bath division I began in 1999 helped us increase our volume and profitability. I will continue to work on this area of the business.
The actual exit strategy focuses on retirement income from rental properties and land, an IRA, and investment income from stocks; Dad will make time available for consulting after his retirement and ownership transfer.
Looking Ahead We are now in the final five years of the 10-year plan. In the near future we will be promoting one of our lead carpenters to production manager to handle the ordering and day-to-day operations in the field. I will handle sales, marketing, and design.
My long-term goal is to increase profitability. I've learned the value of properly implemented systems as a way of increasing productivity, profitability, and allowing me more time with my family.
Working closely with my dad on his exit strategy has shown me one path that I may take with my own children. I hope that one of my three sons will take the reins from me when I am ready to settle down. I've learned not to pressure or push your children to do something they are not ready for, but I look forward to presenting the same opportunity to my sons and letting them decide if it is what they truly want. —Matthew LeFaivre is president of J.R. LeFaivre Construction Co., in Taneytown, Md., and a member of the NAHB, NKBA, and HBAM (Home Builders Association of Maryland) Remodelors Council.