What started out as a small company in a closet has now turned into a thriving company with many different vendors. My father started his company, Robinson Engineering, Inc., from a small closet that was converted into an office in 1999. This company has now grown into a business with many different vendors. One of these include a beer company located in the Bahamas, in which one of his machines performs reverse osmosis to purify water. When I first learned that my father was quitting his good engineering job with a prestigious company to start this business, I was a little skeptical. Of course, I have learned through the years not to question my parents, because I know that they know what is best for our family.
When the company first started, it was just my father. He quickly moved his company to our converted garage and gained one employee. By this point, his business was growing, and it was great. It was great because my father was working from home. He was there for everything, and I loved this. His company moved a few more times, and now he is happily settled into an office and warehouse about a mile from our residence. It is not working at home, but it is just about as close as you could get. Needless to say, I am very proud of all my father’s accomplishments with his company. He has grown the company into a very great organization, and he has taught my younger brother and I a lot from this.
Ever since I can remember, my father was always taking me into his office and showing me how things worked. Machines and other different types of gadgets. When I was old enough to work, I was able to work in the warehouse at his company. Now, when I say this is a warehouse, I mean a warehouse. I had to wear steal toed boots and safety goggles. Now, this was not in any way the ideal summer job for any teenage girl. I had to use my hands, get dirty. Everyday I had a new cut or blister. But it taught me a lot. It was working with these people. My father told me what his father told him, and it was to the effect that many employers will look at an applicant based on their past work experience. This is common knowledge, but my father told me that if an applicant has a cushy internship, this looks good, sure. But if an applicant has worked construction or some other type of job involving labor or being out with other people, that this is important. It is the communication between people. My father worked construction for a few summers before he graduated college, and he told me that this was where he learned how to treat his employees. It was the gaining of what makes employees happy, what makes that want to come to work. It was this that helped him learn how to run his company.
It was these stories. These personal stories that taught me about life. Personal stories are stories that are told by employees that define how they want to be seen in the company. My father’s company has grown, but I know every single one of his employees. Every year we have a ritual. The day before Christmas Eve, when the office will be closed for the next week, we have a big lunch. At this lunch, the employees, their spouses or partners, and children if they have any, convene for a potluck. At this lunch, we talk, not like employees, but like a family. We share stories, the typical what have we done this year, and look how far we have come since last year. One of my father’s favorite employees, who is more like an older brother to me, will joke with me about why I didn’t bring beer for the party. This ritual happens every year at the same time. All of the employees know that at the end of the lunch, my father will stand up and give a speech. We all know what this speech consists of. My father will stand up, and proclaim how proud he is of everyone, and how he feels blessed for everyone in the room. Then, my mother and I will look at each other and smirk, because every year, my father will have tears in his eyes. He is proud. Not for him, because he will never admit that he has done an amazing thing, but it is because he has watched these people grow throughout the years. He is proud of who they have become, and what accomplishments they have made throughout their time at Robinson Engineering. This ritual, has taught me so much about life, careers, and family. Being in a sorority, I know that family does not have to be blood related, because at any given time I know that I have fifty-five sisters at Longwood. But I never truly understood this until I started paying attention to these rituals.
Back to my father’s advice on taking a job that may not be ideal or easy, but it helps in learning about work ethics. This is a version of the Looking-Glass-Self. This is a mental image of oneself that results from taking the role of the other. By my father saying that he learned how to run his company by being an employee himself at one point, this is taking the role of the other. He has placed himself in the position of the employee, and then transferred the knowledge that he gained from this experience to his position as the employer now. He has seen how others would see an employer, and this gave him thoughtful insight in how to treat his employees and run his company.
While looking at the website for the U.S. Small Business Administration, I found some keys that they say are important to growing small businesses. These include strategic thinking; team working skills, and problem solving. Upon reading these, I then tried to see how my father’s company incorporates these skills. The team working skills can easily be seen through the interactions between employees. They work together to build machines and panels. The strategic thinking is seen through the designs of my father and his abilities to ensure that these can be carried out through his employees. And the problem solving is generally something that I am not allowed to be a part of, as it is confidential what happens between his employees and the company if a problem should arise. However, when my grandfather died, I saw these problem solving skills through a different perspective.
When this happened, I saw the company come together in a way that I could have never imagined. While it was a very trying time for my immediate family, I saw that it was also hard for the employees as well. They saw the hurt that my father and family was going through, and this was hard on them. They cared, and the came together. Not a single employee was absent from my grandfather’s funeral. They were there to dry our tears, and offer support. While this is not a business problem solving skill, I do believe that it speaks volumes to the community of a small business. And I believe that this goes back to what my father said about treating his employees.
While Robinson Engineering may not be a multi-million dollar corporation, it is still a substantial part of my family’s well-being. Not only in our source of income, but also in our understanding of the world today. Through my father’s teachings and actions, I have learned what it takes to be a good professional in today’s world. It is through his personal stories and experiences that he has shared with me. Through his use of the Looking-Glass-Self and taking his previous work experience, by viewing an employer from the employee’s eyes, then taking this knowledge and basing his company off of this, this is how I have learned how to communicate. The sense of community in a small business is strong, and it is through the trials and tribulations that make it this way.
Griffin, E., (2008). A First Look at Communication Theory. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.