A family affair
You think working at your family’s business is an easy gig? Think again.
Siblings Kimberly and Jacob are the third generation of family members to work at Seaman’s Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, and they started at about the same place as everyone else.
“Sweeping floors and cleaning toilets,” said Randy Seaman, current owner of the company and father to Kimberly Seaman-Foupht and Jacob Seaman.
And that was after Kimberly was denied entry into the family firm upon graduating from college because there were no positions open at the time.
On June 21, the Seaman family and their associates celebrated 50 years in business for the company, which was founded by Randy’s father, Donald Seaman.
Second-generation family businesses have a slim rate of survival — third-generation even slimmer. Yet Seaman’s growth has led the outfit to move into a larger space twice since Randy Seaman took over the company in 1988 along with his sister and brother-in-law, Shirley and Pat Murphy, who are co-owners. The company has had to increase its engineering, service/repair, installation and office personnel, growing the staff from eight to 35 since Donald retired.
Some of Seaman’s success can be attributed to the standards to which Randy Seaman holds his employees, family or otherwise. “I have 35 fantastic people working with me,” he said. “Two of them happen to be my children.”
He explained that manufacturing a position for a relative can be detrimental to a small family business. A person’s desire to continue and pass on the business has to come from their own personal ambition, not their bloodline. “It’s more than just a job; it’s a heart-felt career,” he said.
After graduating with a degree in business administration from Ferris State University, Kimberly Seaman-Foupht was unable to join the company because it was fully staffed at the time. When a position opened up, she began in the accounting department and has since learned the ins and outs of multiple positions. Jacob Seaman works as a design engineer.
Although the siblings may eventually take over the company, it won’t be until they have developed the necessary skills under the guidance of the management staff. Kimberly and Jacob are encouraged to learn as much as they can about every facet of the company and to be active within the heating, ventilation and air conditioning business community. Neither of them takes their position for granted.
“They’re not guaranteed a position just because they’re family,” said Randy Seaman. “They have to work at their position just like anybody else would.”
He recalled how his own interest in the industry developed after his father began the business out of their home in Lowell.
After studying HVAC between serving in World War II and the Korean War, Navy veteran Donald had returned home and settled in Michigan. In 1961, with one truck and his wife working as receptionist/office manager, he began making service calls and taking 8-year-old Randy along with him to hold the flashlight or put the tools away.
The HVAC and refrigeration industry has gone through many changes since Seaman’s humble beginnings. The firm’s clients have gotten bigger, for instance, and much of its work is now primarily in the commercial/industrial sector. Recently, there has been a push to improve energy efficiency, helping clients improve their environmental and fiscal standings.
Although Seaman’s has adapted along with the industry, Randy said management has worked hard to maintain the family-oriented atmosphere. Many of the employees have known the Seaman children since they were young and still call Kimberly by her childhood nickname, Otis. The employees' children are a welcome presence in the office and families attend several social events, as well as a yearly hay ride and bonfire at the Seaman home.
“Everyone cares about each other’s family,” said Kimberly. “It makes a really good work atmosphere.”
These values transfer into the company’s standard for customer service. Kimberly explained that some of the most important abilities she and her brother have developed are their communication and team-building skills.
When considering what it takes for a company to withstand the test of time for 50 years, it comes back to people. Randy noted that hard work and sincerity are recognized and rewarded by their loyal customers.
“We don’t aspire to be the biggest place in town,” he said. “We certainly want to be the best.”