Austad’s Golf: Family conflicts ‘nothing nine holes can’t solve’

This piece also appears in the July edition of the Chamber News.

Dave Austad knows only about 10 percent of family businesses find themselves where he is – successfully passing down the business to the third generation.

“The ones that seem to struggle the most don’t confront issues,” said Dave, whose father, Oscar, founded Austad’s Golf in 1963. It has grown to nine locations in five states.

Workers in 1973 process orders at an Austad’s warehouse.

“The beauty of a family business is you have people who know each other. The struggle is you bring that family dynamic into the business as well, and sometimes that’s great and sometimes that will kill you. I’ve seen a lot of family businesses where you don’t talk about the elephant in the room.”

It was “trial by fire” for Dave when he took over at age 28, and while that proved an effective education, he’s taking a different route with his son, Ryan, and daughter Sara. Ryan has started running most of the day-to-day business, and Sara leads the e-commerce operation.

“It’s fun to see them work together,” Dave said. “They truly believe this is a family business and it’s their baby, so there’s ownership there, which I think is really cool. A lot of times, my job is just to get out of the way, and I think there’s a lot of family businesses where that’s part of the problem.”

He also keeps the rest of the family – including two daughters who don’t plan to be in the business – informed.

“We haven’t had any major concerns (transitioning) at this point, so we just keep plugging along,” he said.

Ryan and Sara worked for other large businesses before returning to the family business.

“I think it’s the best thing for someone in a family business to do,” Ryan said. “I never felt entitled to a job – any job – at Austad’s. I knew if I wanted to work at Austad’s, I better be able to produce results.”

He and Sara tend to defer to one another on issues in their areas of expertise, but they do enjoy “fun and lively” brainstorming sessions, he said.

“We were raised in a house where debate over dinner was the norm. We were taught to articulate our thoughts and engage in discussion,” Ryan said. “My sister, my dad and I actually enjoy that sort of productive conflict. One dinner guest described the Austads as ‘The Osbornes without the swearing.’ ”

All joking aside, he said he’s fortunate his dad has allowed him to lead.

“We’ve had our occasional boardroom spat, but nothing that nine holes of golf can’t solve,” he said. “It helps we share the same philosophy: We work in golf. If we aren’t having fun, we are doing it wrong!”

Family businesses thrive with careful focus on transitioning through generations

Austad’s Golf: Family conflicts ‘nothing nine holes can’t solve’

Dave Austad knows only about 10 percent of family businesses find themselves where he is – successfully passing down the business to the third generation.

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