Thursday, July 20, 2017

Family-run businesses

I was rather amused by this New York Times story about a Wild West theme park that a family is trying to sell without a lot of success: 
UNION, Ill. — It’s not easy selling a Wild West Town theme park located 60 miles northwest of Chicago, as Larry and Helene Donley have discovered. 
The octogenarian couple have run the place for 43 years and are finally ready to retire. But their sons, Randy and Mike, who are in their early 60s and have helped manage it, are keen for other challenges.... 
There is a hitch, however: The elder Donleys don’t want someone to change the property into, say, a concert space, as a potential buyer once suggested. Ideally, they want things to continue in their current Howdy Doody-esque form, right down to the gold-panning pavilion, the live action Wild West show, and kiddie rides on the 19th-century miniature locomotive. 
...The current asking price is $7 million, but Larry Donley has turned away people who didn’t seem willing or likely to preserve it as is.... 
...Such is the difficulty of selling a family heirloom business that no one else in the family really wants to run. 
Does this frustrate the younger generations? They say no, and insist they are committed to operating the park until they find that elusive buyer. “The park was never our dream,” Randy, the younger son, said of himself and his brother, who auction antique phonographs, jukeboxes and other 20th-century Americana as their principal occupation. As for their father, however, “He really believes that that person is out there.” 
As with many amusement parks, the bulk of the revenue — some of it from the $17-a-person admission — has to come in between May and the end of October. Mike Donley wouldn’t discuss financial details, but he said the park had earned the family enough to sustain three generations over the decades. Mike and Randy Donley both say it is profitable.
I left my other wallet in the other room, so I don't think I have the spare seven million dollars to buy the place, but it is interesting to me how difficult it is for families to pass a business from one generation to the next. It's also interesting how difficult it is, when children want to learn the family business, for them to actually do it in at the same level of success as their parents.)

I don't think there are a lot of family-owned chemical businesses out there that are salable at the moment, but if I had seven million dollars....


  1. Is Koch industries not family-owned? If not, then I am only familiar with Olon Spa being family-owned.

  2. Ah, I had forgotten that one when I was writing last night. Good point. (Also, isn't BASF family-owned? or at least a portion of it? Perhaps I mis-remember....)

  3. The Merck family still own about 3/4 of the German Merck.

  4. J & J is closely held.

  5. Hoffmann-La Roche
    Families are still big shareholders

  6. It doesn't seem to be that hard to sell the property as they have turned away people. It's harder to sell the property when the seller wants the buyer to do what they (the seller) wants and not what they buyer wants. Kind of like me selling a house that we last remodeled in the '70's and turning away any buyer that wants to remodel to something different. Not much of a story here really.

    1. Part of what people want when they own something is control, and if you can't control what you own, you don't really own it.

      It's their money and time, though - if that's what they want, and the kids are willing to wait, then...shrug.

    2. I agree and thus this isn't a story about how hard it is to sell this business. More like how hard it is to deal with difficult sellers (which is, of course, their right, but doesn't mean it's a story).