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Keeping it in the family

The secrets and the joys of running a family-owned business

Andrew recalls a friend once commenting, “Andrew, you know why you’re successful? Because of your family, working together.” He agrees. There is a sense of independence that comes with the knowledge that what you have is your own. There is a resiliency that comes in working together around a common cause.

Likewise, there is a strength that comes from working with family, as well as from seeing the business through the compassionate, cooperative lens that it supposes. When difficult decisions need to be made, the outcomes aren’t informed only through a consideration of the needs of the business, but also by the question, “Is this what I want for my family?”

Working together

The “our kids” of the company name—Agatha, Agnes, and Michael—were still young when the business was founded, and they otherwise happily looked forward to careers in other fields.

An early photo of the Stawicki family. From top to bottom: Andrew, Margaret, Agatha, Agnes & Michael.

Yet, with more clients each year, coupled with a desire to build out what the company was able to offer them—as with the expos and the workshops—the business was growing quickly and considerably. At one particularly stressful moment, Andrew turned to his oldest daughter to pitch in. “I asked Agatha if she could help us out, and she jumped right in. She’s never looked back.” She then she’s grown into the leadership role that drives the business today.

Similarly, Andrew remembers calling Agnes saying “I need your help” and, like her sister before her, she too jumped in, joining the team full-time. Because Agnes shared the vision and the passion for the business, the fit was, from the outset, an excellent one. Having trained as an engineer, her skills at organization, thinking technically, and asking hard questions provided a needed boost to the online presence of Our Kids as well as to the daily operations.

Michael, like his siblings, brought a unique set of strengths, skills, and perspectives—as well as a business degree—that further supported the growth of the company.

Re-defining family

Today, Our Kids has 16 employees and an ever-expanding client base. Roles, too, have been solidified, with Agatha providing overall direction, Agnes overseeing the company's online and digital initiatives, and Michael overseeing operations, expos, and logistics.

“Although we try not to talk about business outside of business,” says Agnes, “family holidays and gatherings often quickly turn into business meetings.”

As the company has grown, so has the sense of what it means to be a family business. Beyond blood relatives, Our Kids sees their employees, clients, and the families that they serve as part of the family, too. “We’ve worked with our camp and school members for so many years,” says Agnes, “they know our family and we often know theirs.”

A clear, unified vision

Those core relationships provide a unique consistency in the life of the company. Yes, there are always going to be disagreements, and not everyone always sees everything eye-to-eye. That’s natural, of course, both for businesses and families. But the core values, throughout, are informed by participation in both of those spheres.

“We argue like any other family,” says Agnes, “but we’re also very close and make an effort to stay together for as many holidays and family getaways as we can. Our Kids takes a break over the Christmas holidays, and our family takes a vacation which doubles, at times, as a working retreat.”

“You know, part of everything is a compromise,” says Andrew. “Whatever it is—business, marriage—you have to compromise,” something which he sees as a positive. “Yes, there are disagreements. But we work through them, and ultimately, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And, at the end of the day, as long as we’re still having dinner together, I’m happy.”

While the Our Kids family has grown over the years, and can no longer sit around a single table, that approach remains as true today as it was two decades ago. Disagreements remain a source of strength, particularly given a context in which it is implicitly understood that we’re all in this together, working toward a common goal. At the end of the day, we’re all family.

camp 20th anniversary

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