Family Businesses, Pamela Kan, President of Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation

Pamela Kan, CEO, Bishop-Wisecarver Corp. talks with the American Dreams show host, Alan Olsen, about family business and succession.

Alan Olsen
Hi, this is Alan Olsen and welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is Pamela Khan. She’s the president and owner of Bishop wise Carver. Welcome to today’s show.

Pamela Kan
Good morning, Alan.

Alan Olsen
So, Pamela, the bishop wise Carver is a family business. Correct? How did you how did you get involved with this? The business model and starting up, you know where you got today? Yeah.

So my dad started the business with Mr. Bishop. So I’m a wise Carver, and back in 1950. And we’ve made a variety of different types of industrial products and solutions over the years. We focus now on industrial automation solutions.

So we help machines and processes move back and forth, up and down and around. Like an MRI machine, bed slides in and out, that would be a linear actuator magnet spins around to do the imaging, that’s a rotary actuator, and we work with machine and process builders to design the movement within those machines. So that’s what we do.

I am the youngest of four kids, I have three older brothers and never on my radar screen to ever work for my dad.

My brothers are 710 12 years older. And my oldest brother from an engineering innovation standpoint was the most like my dad. And I just really never thought I’d go out there. But I had a career in retail. And back in late 80s, early 90s, that got really tough and retail, with Black Friday, and junk bond debt, and all of that. And I was working for carto Holly Hale, and their department store division.

And they had severe junk bond debt fighting off flex Wexner from the limited trying to protect Neiman Marcus, their signature brand. And when the market crashed, they couldn’t serve the service the debt, they split the company in two and put the department store division into bankruptcy. And so I needed a new job. And my dad said, Hey, I got a project for you.

And it was supposed to be a temporary gig, but 31 years later. I’m the president and I’m the sole owner.

So it’s been a journey.

Alan Olsen
You know, it’s interesting. So you’re out in San Francisco Bay Area? Correct. We’re about 45 miles east in you’ve already been you’ve always been located out there. Is that right?

Yeah. Yeah, my dad is a hardcore Californian. I think I’m the fourth or fifth generation. We came in a wagon from Iowa in 1853. And we’ve been in the barrier ever since.

Alan Olsen
Wow. So that’s a long family legacy. You know, it’s interesting. You noted about the MRI. I actually know the guy that that invented that. Oh, well, since passed. He started a company called Bayes Sonics. And rest is history there. But but that’s interesting to see the that that’s an area that you service. Now. You know, it’s interesting, the dynamics of a family business, not everyone is as successful as you have been.

And there’s a lot of families, families that are transitioning, just like you did. So what advice do you have for people to consider when transitioning a family business from you know, you know, a dad to daughter? Yeah, some of the things that you went through?

Well, you know, we’re lucky, we were actually just starting our 73rd year, but you know, most companies don’t make it this long. And most companies can’t get to the second generation, and then it gets harder and harder with each generation. For me, I think the important thing is to find a tribe.

And what was what was a real saver for me as I went to the governing the family business program at Northwestern. Under John Ward, there’s, at the time, there wasn’t a lot of schools, a lot of business schools that focused on family business, multi generationally privately held businesses. Now, there’s more to choose from. But that was an excellent program.

And I I think it’s really important to understand like you said, family business is tough, because it’s, it’s, it’s running a business, which is already hard. And then you have all the emotions of family on top of it, which makes it super hard. So, you know, getting into a group like that, or another group I’m involved in is Dave Ward. writtens tugboat Institute.

These are all privately held businesses, many multi generational families some Aesop’s that once again, I think, I think it’s just a different way of doing business when you’re privately held, especially when your family held. And there’s different types of structures. As you probably know, some families actively run the business, some have a board, with an outsider running the business. There’s there’s different ways to do it.

And I think that’s the other thing you need to learn is, sometimes it’s better to not have the family involved. Yeah. Because of the dynamics or because how many generations end up being stockholders? You know that that can be another one, I was lucky, it was second generation we didn’t have it was a lot of stockholders. But if you get into third and fourth generation, it can be really complex.

Alan Olsen
Yeah, I recently dealt with fifth and sixth generation. And by that time, one side of the family didn’t know who the other side of the family were, they were beyond second cousins. And so they decided to kind of split this up in their separate ways. But you know, what, let’s talk about as you entered into the business, how did how did your dad help? to groom you as president? Was it so I got the bad or did he?

Not at all? For a while? Yeah, yeah, like I said, I went out there to do a project. I wasn’t even a permanent long term employee when I first went out there. I was never groomed to ever work there or take over the business. And long story short, I would say my family did not do succession. Well, we are a case study on how not to do it.

So I can answer questions from what didn’t work, I can tell you some best practices from, you know, being in the groups I’m in.

But it was very, it was really hard on our family. You know, the family really paid a price. And, and getting it to the next generation from the dynamics of the family.

Alan Olsen
And that’s, I would say, that’s normal. Unfortunately, it’s, it’s not easy to do that. The, I think, the most successful case study in multi generations, the Mars family, which they’re on the eighth generation, but in order to make it you know, you got to start paring it down, and who’s going to be involved in the business and who’s not and it’s, it’s a, it is a challenge? I think it’s not? Yeah,

I was gonna say, I think that’s actually, and I don’t have children. So, but I think that is actually what gets in the way, is separating your love for your children, from the love for your business. And being very explicit, that there may be a role for you as a family member in the business, but you have to be able to serve a purpose in the family.

And I think, like we studied as the Johnson, the Johnson family, as well as Mars, you know, at Northwestern.

And I think when you have that clarity, that you earn your right way into the business, and you have to be able to provide value to the business, or the families that are able to do it much more successfully. You know, my dad wanted to tell every child that they could run the business. Well, I have three older brothers, you can’t have four presidents of a company.

And especially for my brother’s closer in age, you know, they, they, they were all vying for one seat.

And that, you know, because my dad didn’t want to say one over the other and just created a really bad dynamic.

Alan Olsen
So how big are you right now in terms of scale? Are you doing international or mainly within the US are?

We do we do sell globally, we sell globally through primarily distribution partners. We are about two thirds I’d say North America with Canada and Mexico and 1/3 the rest of the world

Alan Olsen
Okay, so let’s move over to the topic then. current trends you see when it comes to family businesses selecting leadership I know there’s a lot of people thinking about succession planning out there right now and and based on your experience, so how did how did Dad finally decide between daughter getting it versus the three sons and I know Oh, this is not an easy question to answer. But when this

well, yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s opening the kimono a lot. And, you know, answering it is just from my perspective as well, right? I’m sure my brothers would answer that differently. Yeah, that is a tough question for me to answer when it comes to them. You know, I think each each one of them had different skill sets. And it goes back to what I said before. And I was actually the only child who went to college.

Now, my dad didn’t go to college, but my dad was also very much a natural engineer. And he was the inventor, he had the patents, he was designing the products. I mean, he built his first car at 10 years old, and he just naturally got it, I think, because there was no clarity as to the roles you could earn within the business, it got, like I said, really messy for my brothers, because they’re also closer in age, right, all three of them.

You know, I’m being 710 and 12 years younger than them, I’m somewhat of, of a, kind of like the second family. And so they were all there at the same time competing against each other, but there was no clarity around the roles that really needed to be served. And so therefore, there wasn’t clarity in skill sets that they needed to fill.

By the time I was there, you know, my, my dad was getting older, Mr. Bishop had passed away, there was starting to be different dynamics in the company, and the size of the company. And I came from a job, I was a buyer when I was working for the department store.

So with a business degree, so I, I also had a very different Lane than my dad, I think my brothers were all trying to be my dad, version two, I was never going to be my dad, I’m not an engineer, I don’t play one on TV, I don’t pretend to be one, I have some natural sense from just growing up with my dad and, you know, conversations around the dinner table.

But I picked a really different Lane than my dad, I never competed with my dad, because my skill sets are the business, the sales and marketing, you know, the finances and how we run the company. And so that allowed me in my own lane. And as I said, my brothers sort of self destructed against each other.

And then literally, I was kind of the last kid standing but and I was able to work with my dad because we weren’t competing for basically the same role with the same skill sets. And so I think that’s why I ended up prevailing you know, my, my dad would tell people, like I said, this was a natural ability for him. So what he would tell people is I ran the business like a hobby, she runs it like a business.

Alan Olsen
Well, let’s let’s let’s go back into your company’s helping with multiple organizations focused on women in STEM. And manufacturing think just as a big trend today of women in women owned businesses or running businesses, how has your background help you to prepare for this?

Yeah, I mean, I think my family dynamics definitely helped preparing me because I was the only female. Well, my mom and I write I was, I was in a male dominated family from the beginning. And I’m in a male dominated industry. And I actually did originally go to school for chemistry, I loved chemistry. And I always loved STEM based learning, whether it was in Girl Scouts, or high school or college and I did a lot of the sciences.

Even when I switched over to my business degree, I got minors in the sciences. So it’s, it’s always been a love of mine. And I have to say, in some ways, I think my dad was kind of one of the original girl dads. He was very egalitarian, you know, chores. I did the same chores pretty much as my brothers you know, prune the trees, here’s the saw get up in the tree and prune the trees.

You got a car Well, you better learn how to drive a manual better learn how to you know, change your own gas and do your tire. You know, I didn’t I he made sure I had a lot of the same skills is my brothers. And I think that kind of helped me kind of toughen up, I think and in survive and a male kind of in a very male dominated industry. So I think that’s how he prepared me.

Alan Olsen
So, Pam, there’s one last question I want to ask you here. As you go through looking at your life today, and you forecasts out into the future, at the end of life, how do you want to be remembered? Oh, what legacy? Do you want to leave behind?

Um, well, I think it kind of goes back to your your last question we get involved in. We’ve been sponsors now for Oh, wow. I think 1314 years of FIRST Robotics. I really like the premise behind Dean caimans vision, you know, it’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. And he wants to make science as cool as professional sports or, you know, singers and all of that.

And we try to make sure we, we sponsor, female teams as well, which they’re starting to be more and more of, but what I get joy from, is when I’m out with any of the community groups, we’re sponsoring, whether it’s our local high schools, we’re really big with Manufacturing Day, we just had about 200 kids through our plants, plant and is giving girls a different vision of the future that they can have.

It’s very statistically, girls don’t stick with STEM based education, as they move up from middle school to high school to college. And it’s being able to be a role model to them to show that a woman can be running an engineering company or a manufacturing company, or can be a scientist, and, and do all of that. And it’s sad because I talk to young girls still, who don’t think that that’s a viable career path.

And that’s the wonderful thing about technology, especially in manufacturing, is it’s no longer about brawn. It’s about brains. And women’s brains are just as capable as men’s brains. So I’m really excited to see the impact that having more and more women in STEM based education and into manufacturing will make on the industry and the world. I think it’s going to be a great thing.

Alan Olsen
Well, Pamela, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today on the shelf

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    Pamela Kan on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Pamela Kan

    As President of Bishop-Wisecarver since 1999, Pamela Kan has leveraged the company’s 70+ years of ingenuity to provide the most trusted and respected motion solutions in the industrial automation industry. Bishop-Wisecarver is a US-based, certified women owned, manufacturing and engineering company specializing in linear and rotary motion for automation solutions that excel in extreme, harsh and hygienic environments.

    As one of the few female leaders in the manufacturing industry, Kan is passionate about closing the gap in gender diversity and helping showcase the benefits of manufacturing as a strong career option. She is active in numerous regional, state and national trade organizations helping solve the skills gap issues in the industry, as well as STEM-focused student programs and mentoring groups for women business owners. Kan’s tenacity in solving problems and helping others, combined with her entrepreneurial vision, commitment to customer service, and proven company leadership, has led to numerous awards including the 2018 Women’s Business Enterprise STAR for Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and the 2021 Power Transmission Distributor Association (PTDA) Warren Pike Award.

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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