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Dan Menke grew up mowing the lawn, picking up nuts and bolts, and sweeping the floor at Pride Neon Sign Co., which his grandfather George Menke Sr. co-founded 70 years ago.
“And my dad said, ‘I want you to go to college, get a degree and work elsewhere before we talk about you coming back.’ And that’s how it worked,” Dan said.
He gravitated toward accounting, eventually becoming treasurer at the former VeraSun Energy Co. and rejoined the family business in 2009.
“I just decided it could be a good deal, and carrying on what they started is a huge challenge, but it’s something we’re all trying to do,” he said.
He and his cousins each work in different areas of the business, including sales, production, and service and installation.
Dan, an accountant, works alongside his father, Dick, the company’s secretary-treasurer and his uncles, George Jr., who is CEO, and Bob, who leads production and art design.
The family has been more deliberate in succession planning than the prior generation, Dick said.
“Communication is vital,” he said. “What helped us is getting an outside advisory board, getting really good advisors and having regular family business meetings to give everyone a chance to speak their mind, and we work through those issues together.”
A family-business agreement set protocol for future generations to buy into Pride Neon. It requires they get a degree, work somewhere else at least two years and work in the family business at least five years before they have a chance to buy stock.
“We want them to be good stewards and be involved in the community, so we’ve laid that all out so there’s no misunderstanding going forward,” Dick said.
Outside advisers have helped with transitioning, Dan said, adding that while there are challenging days in family businesses, the benefits outweigh them.
“When you look at the statistics, they don’t make it to generation three very often,” he said. “A lot of that is personality and work ethics, and I think we’re blessed me and my cousins have a strong work ethic and we don’t let any of that get in our way.”
Pride Neon has earned a regional reputation for quality and innovation, and its leaders are eager to see their successors build on it.
“It’s great. We’re so excited about it,” Dick said. “Owning a small business is living the American dream. I think they see it, and they’re committed to it. We didn’t want to force them, but at the same time it’s really exciting for us.”
Pride Neon Sign is celebrating seven decades and its third generation of family leadership.