Turning 80 warrants a pause to reflect on your life achievements, the quality of life lived and, most importantly, the legacy you stand to leave behind for future generations.
In 1959 I founded Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply. Evaluating the success and longevity of the company, I attribute five conservative leadership principles, handed down to me by my grandfather and great uncles, that guided our business practices over the course of 50-plus years:
1. Conscientious financial planning;
2. Respect for institutional knowledge;
3. Prudent risk management;
4. Valuing our employees; and
5. Pursuing vocational and higher education.
At Dempsey, we’ve always taken the long-term perspective on our business, focusing on slow and steady growth to create a distinctive difference in our family-owned company culture.
Our emphasis on operational investment has been a key strategy in our financial planning. While some companies allocate profits to larger salaries for senior executives, we have consistently reinvested a large portion of profits back into our business. We’ve allocated significant budgets for innovations in plant operations and equipment to maintain a competitive advantage as industry technology leaders. We also practice modeling: assessing historical operational results, learning from what has worked in the past and incorporating those successes into the present business model.
Institutional knowledge is a huge asset to family-owned businesses. The wisdom passed down by previous generations can be a significant advantage over companies experiencing ownership and management changes. When the 2008 subprime mortgage financial crisis hit, my son,PJ, could draw from my experience navigating the company through the previous energy crisis of 1973-74. We had a plan in place that ensured the company could not only survive, but come out ahead as the economy recovered.
Risk management strategies require us to control tendencies of false security, especially regarding debt management. A “Black Swan Event*” (like the credit default swaps-based stock market crash), though highly improbable and random, can occur with seismic consequences, derailing years of prosperity.
Carrying too much debt may mean you can’t make it in the event of an unexpected economic crisis.
As responsible leaders, we must protect not only our business, but also our employees against the unexpected. Our advice on employee retention is to prepare. When revenues drop, have enough in reserves to avoid layoffs, maintain salaries and continue 401(k) contributions and health benefits.
Contrasted against companies around the nation that have suffered huge layoffs in recent years, we’ve witnessed our employees emerging as a more seasoned, committed team.
Employees work harder for companies that respect, reward and value them. That’s our philosophy, and it’s been proven in our extremely high employee retention. A family-owned company culture gives employees a sense of belonging beyond what public companies can offer, which we find is a major reason why many Dempsey employees have worked for the company in excess of 20 years.
Diversifying your customer base by both size and industry is also a wise risk-management strategy.
Though you might be lured by the money and prestige of larger accounts, those can become the tail that wags the dog.
My son, PJ, Dempsey’s current president, and my daughter Kristin, Vice president, have held every position in our company from the bottom up. They lead from personal knowledge, and fully appreciate each employee’s role as the many integral parts that make up the whole. For example, they understand the challenges of a delivery driver’s job, and appreciate that it would be asking too much for them to also perform a sales function, even though they interface with the customer and it might seem like they have the best opportunity to execute that role. They know that because they’ve done that job themselves.
I’ve also invested in my children’s higher-education as the next generation of leaders, as a business strategy. I’d like to think I’ve modeled for them a respect for higher-education and the ethics of hard work. Growing up in the business, they possess both the technical skills and the business education they need to lead the company into the future.
Unquestionably, my family and business are my greatest accomplishments. With my wife, Karen, of nearly fifty years, six beautiful, diverse and accomplished children, eight grandchildren, and a company that has continued to thrive over the course of more than fifty years, I am filled with a great sense of pride. I have unflagging confidence in the future leadership of the family business knowing the values and principles my forefathers and industry mentors have handed down to me, I have instilled in my children.
For more information visit Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply www.dempseyuniform.com
About the Author
Patrick Dempsey is the chairman of Dempsey Uniform & Linen Supply. Mr. Dempsey co-founded Dempsey Uniform & Linen Supply with his brother, Richard J. Dempsey in Dunmore in 1959. The company serves businesses in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, including Washington, D.C., with rental of uniforms, linens and floor mats including weekly pick-up, cleaning and delivery. Dempsey has successfully marketed their B2B products and services under the “Dempsey Difference” branding umbrella. Dempsey also has facilities in Baltimore, Sunbury and Harrisburg. The company has more than 300 employees.
Over the past 50 years, Mr. Dempsey has led the company to become a proving ground for new laundry technologies and resource conservation, winning numerous awards and recognition for environmental leadership including the “Green Powerhouse Award” from the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal and the first certification of a U.S. laundry as “Clean Green.” The company has twice been named one of the “Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania” and recognized as the most technologically advanced laundry in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Dempsey has been active in both his industry and his community. He has served on the board and executive committee of the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) which, in 2011, recognized him with its “Lifetime Achievement Award.” At TRSA, he also served as the long-time chairman of the Membership and Textile Rental Committees as well as authoring numerous articles for Textile Services magazine. He has served on the board and as the president of the CSC National Network of Independent Laundries. He is also chairman of the board of Fidelity Deposit & Discount Bank and served for more than 30 years on the board of the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission, including over a decade as chairman.
Mr. Dempsey is a graduate Industrial Engineer of Lehigh University with an MBA from the University of Scranton. In 1955, he completed the American Institute of Laundering School of Laundry Operation & Management.
* The phrase “black swan” derives from a Latin expression “rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno” (a rare bird in the lands, black and very much like a swan). In English, when the phrase was coined, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the metaphor lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought. A set of conclusions is potentially undone once any of its fundamental postulates is disproved. In this case, the observation of a single black swan would be the undoing of the logic of any system of thought, as well as any reasoning that followed from that underlying logic.