All in the family
The transition of power at The Alexander Co. from CEO Randy Alexander to his sons, Joe (left) and Nic, has been a decade in the making.
The Alexander Company
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A lot of companies fret over succession planning when their top executives are nearing retirement. Others don’t even consider it until faced with the imminent departure of a long-time leader.
For a family business, there’s a perhaps outdated inclination to think someday the kids will just take over. According to the Family Business Institute, “88% of current family business owners believe the same family or families will control their business in five years, but succession statistics undermine this belief. Only about 30% of family and businesses survive into the second generation, 12% are still viable into the third generation, and only about 3% of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond. Research indicates that family business failures can essentially be traced to one factor: an unfortunate lack of family business succession planning.”
In the case of The Alexander Company, the plan wasn’t so much something founder and CEO Randy Alexander and his sons, Joe and Nic, set out intentionally to craft; rather, according to Joe and Nic Alexander, the process of ceding control of the Madison-based family run business from their father to his sons was something that happened organically over 10 years of working together — and close to a lifetime of the company as a backdrop to their lives.
Kitchen table talk
The Alexander Co. has been a near constant in the lives of 37-year-old Joe and 33-year-old Nic.
From the time their father and mother founded the business nearly 30 years ago, Joe, the company’s president, and Nic, a vice president, have played a role.
“I actually have a scar on my forehead from falling off a pile of cement bags when I was 3 years old,” says Joe.
Joe officially started working for The Alexander Co. when he was 14 years old doing grounds and maintenance, and then property leasing and property management throughout his undergraduate years. He went to UW–Madison, and spent some time in the District of Columbia working for the federal government, before returning to Madison and earning his law degree. After law school he decided against becoming a lawyer and joined the company in a vice president/operating officer position, and then in 2008 took over as company president when Randy moved into the CEO role.
“My experience is a little more diverse than a lot of folks in the real estate industry,” Joe says, “but the way our company is structured we have in-house design, construction management, property management, accounting, and, of course, finance and development staff, so you need to know a little bit about a lot of different things. It’s a learn-on-the-job type thing. There’s not any real training you can get for something that diverse.”
Like Joe, Nic says his first job was picking up garbage and cigarette butts around The Alexander Co.’s properties when he was 14.
“I was better at that,” cracks Joe.
“That’s debatable,” retorts Nic. “I’ve heard mixed reviews. But our mother did say that Joe was better at it.”
Nic earned degrees in English and psychology from UW–Milwaukee, but he knew he wanted to join the family company after graduation. Until recently he’s been the head of the marketing and PR division.
“Just having the background of growing up with the company and understanding all these different processes that go on helped significantly in understanding how to market it,” Nic says. “That was really what brought me in — I always believed in The Alexander Co. and had a lot of enthusiasm for what we do along with a conviction that what we do is a good thing versus the way real estate developers can be portrayed at times.
“My parents obviously knew you try to leave work at work but our whole life was The Alexander Company, so we heard about it everyday and every weekend, and just sort of lived and breathed it,” Nic continues. “How many 16-year-olds know how TIF works and things like that. So, you grow up learning all that sort of thing and you grow up seeing, in our case, a really decrepit building being transformed into something really beautiful, and the same with sites where we would have done new construction.”
“It really was kitchen table talk,” notes Joe.