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Growing up in a family business doesn’t mean starting at the top

What’s it like working in a family business when you’re a member of the family that owns the business? Executives of three of Mississippi’s leading private companies say it’s rewarding but not always the cake walk others might imagine.

“I strolled out of Ole Miss thinking I’d be at the top here,” says Hal Miller III of Miller Transporters. “Instead, in the beginning I worked the midnight to 9 a.m. shift. Family members are expected to do more. The quicker you can come to terms with humility, the better off you are.”

Now he’s vice president of sales and marketing, but that wasn’t the case 25 years ago when he joined the family business right out of college. Miller Transporters was started in 1942 and now has third- and fourth-generation family members employed there.

“Family businesses are often riddled with nepotism, but the opposite is probably true. It’s more the reverse of nepotism,” Miller said. “We’re expected to perform at a higher level. Just because your name is plastered across trucks, things aren’t easier.”

This grandson of the company founder thinks there’s both pride and pressure in protecting the family business. “We’re sometimes starring at the ceiling worrying about it when others are sleeping at night,” he says, “but we get more fulfillment.”

Miller Transporters implemented new bylaws a few years ago that require family members to get college degrees and work somewhere else two years before joining the family company.

“We have a large family and these new bylaws are being accepted by them,” Miller said. “Working here is not an entitlement. We want family members to find out what makes them tick; to know about other businesses and to bring value to the company. Then they’ll start at the bottom here.”

Lee Sims certainly knows about starting at the bottom of a family business. He began as a laborer on a construction project in Miami for L & A Contracting, a heavy construction company based in Hattiesburg. He’s third generation in the family business that was started by his grandfather, father and uncle in 1947.

“I grew up in it, but they still made me start as a laborer, and more was expected of me than anyone else,” he says. “I worked up to foreman, superintendent, project manager and now president.”

There were times when Sims disagreed with his grandfather, father and uncle, but sometimes the elder Sims would defer to the younger one because he was in the field where the work was taking place. Now that he’s confined to the main office, he recalls his days in the field as some of the happiest of his life.

With only three stockholders, L & A has diversified to include concrete, pre-stress concrete and apartment building. “As things get slower for highway construction, we’re blessed that we diversified,” Sims said. “We don’t have all our eggs in one basket, and we’re working to diversify more.”

Bill C. Hudson Jr. grew up following his dad around as the older Hudson bought salvage goods for the extreme value retail business based in Hattiesburg. “I learned how to buy salvage and learned principals from him,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I encourage young people to follow their passion.”

The 47-year old is now chairman of the board of Hudson Holdings, LLC, and is third generation in the family business. “I stand on my father’s and grandfather’s shoulders. It’s a great foundation, and I’ve built on it,” he says. “We have to keep new ideas coming.”

The company has grown to 1,300 employees and retail outlets spread over several states. One of Hudson’s main tasks is managing the corporate culture established by his father and grandfather.

“We treat employees like family. It would be difficult for me to work in any other culture,” he said. “Our company is run like a family, and we use that word a lot. We stick together through good and bad and we lift each other up. I’m not perfect, but I’m grateful for what’s gone before me and want to keep it going.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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