I have been fortunate to have spent most of my career running a small family business. The nature of this type of business generally means less structure, everything is hands on, tight margins, and working with several generations of family members. This presents a host of unique challenges.
I have been at BB Riverboats for many years but have also worked outside the family business. In my early years, I worked as a deckhand for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and spent a summer as a busboy in the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York. Both experiences helped shape my future. I learned all about long hours, low pay, and customer service.
At 21, my father was an artillerist in the U.S. Army during World War II. He came back home from the war brimming with confidence and with an entrepreneurial spirit. He started several small businesses, including a passenger vessel company which today is BB Riverboats. These small businesses fully occupied our family, resulting in long hours and seemingly never-ending shifts. Everyone pitched in wherever they were needed. Eventually, I earned my captain’s license and added operating passenger vessels to an already long list of responsibilities.
My children, Terri and Ben, grew up around the business and now work full time at BB Riverboats. They work the same long hours and roll up their sleeves just as we did in the early days. They are stepping up to lead our small company into the future. Their children are also in line to enter the business.
There are many good things about working in a family business and there are also some unique stresses. A family business is in many ways more challenging because family issues are always there, on or off the clock. On the other hand, I was able to work alongside my father for 25 years. His tough management style, influenced by his military training, was interspersed with a twist of fatherly advice and love. I understand now that my father was preparing me to take over the company one day, just as I am doing now with Terri and Ben.
Whatever challenges we face in our day-to-day operations, I would not trade it for any corner office in the corporate world. I am proud to say that our little company is well positioned to continue moving forward in the Bernstein family way.