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French Fries and Family

The secret to succession success for this 100-year-old family business is a focus on hard work and open communication.

Mar 22, 2018

You may not recognize the name, but you’ll know the products. Anytime you eat a processed potato — a McDonald’s French Fry, an Ore-Ida Tater Tot or Reser’s Potato Salad — it likely came through machinery from Idaho Steel.

This Idaho Falls company has developed much of the technology around potato processing, and their equipment has helped plants around the world run more efficiently, use less energy and decrease waste.

The company also helped invent the technology that produces potato flakes for companies like Idahoan Food, Basic American Foods and Oregon Potato.

It's a Family Affair

The employees enjoy the all-day potato talk, because it’s a family business. Lynn Bradshaw bought the company more than 25 years ago, and ever since, Idaho Steel has been an example of keeping the family strong while growing a successful business.

“It’s not easy to run a family business, for anyone really,” says Davis Christensen, son-in-law to Lynn and vice president of Sales and Marketing at Idaho Steel. “But we realized, the core of our family business is strength.”

Idaho Steel celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2018. The company has expanded globally to

every continent except Antarctica. Davis oversees the commercial responsibilities, while brothers-in-law Alan Bradshaw and Delynn Bradshaw oversee engineering and production, respectively.

Davis says, it all comes down to trust. “We lean toward one another’s areas of expertise and strong points.”

No Special Treatment

As for the next generation, both Davis and his son, Jon Christensen, agree there isn’t any obligation to join the family business. They keep possibilities open and even encourage family members to find jobs in other industries that could bring fresh perspective to Idaho Steel.

“We want them to focus on their educations. But they know there won’t be a silver spoon waiting for them,” Davis says. “Most of all because we’re in the private sector and have to turn a profit every year. And second, we don’t want our generation to come in with a sense of entitlement. They need to start at the bottom and work their way up.”

In other family businesses, the relationships can be a downside when discussing difficult topics. But Jon says that is not the case for Idaho Steel; family members are open with challenges and even discuss ideas and projects over barbecues and family events. “I find it easier to bring up difficult topics because it’s not just an employee/employer relationship,” Jon says.

Ensuring Successful Succession

One difficult topic for all family businesses is succession planning. Just as Jon wasn’t pressured to join the family business full time, the second generation was presented the possibility in a nonthreatening way.

When Lynn Bradshaw decided to retire in 2008, he approached his two sons and son-in-law, all full-time employees of the company, with the opportunity.

In the Bradshaw family, Davis says the best approach is being open minded in discussions and not pressuring the next generation.

“Lynn sacrificed a bit of his own potential earnings for the sake of letting us get ownership of the business,” Davis says. “Lynn gave us the opportunity. That is an important part of how this company has come together.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of the Family Business Newsletter, published by Zions Bank’s Family Business Services group. Pictured in the photo are Idaho Steel managing partners Davis Christensen, Delynn Bradshaw and Alan Bradshaw. Photo courtesy of Idaho Steel.

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