Maintaining relationships and intentionally working on harmony in a family enterprise takes effort, but doing so has several positive benefits. It creates a sense of shared purpose among family members. This is especially important as later generations own the business together but may not be as closely related as the founding or second generation (e.g. cousin ownership groups). Working on family harmony also deepens trust between family members and builds respect for the family history and legacy.

Betsy Powell, fifth generation co-owner and member of the family behind Charlton Kennels and Farm shares some thought how to maintain family harmony. Charlton Kennels and Farm won the Austin Family Business Program Excellence Award for Family Harmony in 2016.

As fifth generation owners, how do you maintain connection to family members who aren’t involved in the day to day operation of the business?

There are so many things that keep us close and connected!  Firstly, we are a very loving family and truly care about one another. We gather for holiday meals, weddings, and graduations, etc.  And it’s not hard staying connected via phones and all the social media opportunities. We have children who live very close and others as far away as China.  They are always as close as a text or Skyping.  There really is no reason not to stay connected.  The farm itself is also a magnet of sorts for everyone.  All of us have worked and played on the farm or at the kennel.  Every season has something wonderful to offer—flocks of waterfowl in the fall and winter, great green fields in the spring, planting and haying in the summer, walks on the farm and at the lake, and enjoying the animals—dogs, llamas, alpacas and horses-- any time. We all enjoying sharing the farm with our friends and close neighbors.

What advice do you have for handling disagreements with other family members when it comes to business decisions?

Avoid disagreements in the first place.  My sister Kelly and I have divided up the responsibilities of the kennel and farm in such a way that we aren’t micro managing each other and trust one another to handle the smaller, day-to-day decisions independently or with staff support.  The bigger decisions and also the personal ones—ones that might be small but will reflect on the family—are discussed as needed.  We meet regularly and text daily.  Not to mention I can see her house from my house!  If there is a difficult decision that must be made—time is a good teacher.  Most things can be shelved for a few days or even weeks giving us time to consider.  Then come back to it. 

Your business and family has a rich history.  How do you teach and involved the younger generation in the history and legacy of the family enterprise?

There is so much about this family, farm and business that we want to pass on.  We love to share anecdotes about our Dad, Mom, and the grandparents with the kids while relaxing---but also while working. For example—an embarrassing but vivid memory of mine is raking hay while wearing a swimsuit.  I’m not sure I got much of a tan—just a sunburn and lots of dirt and chaff everywhere—but what I remember most is having the rake come unfolded and open up just as I was crossing a small bridge.  I caused quite a small traffic jam.  Dad miraculously backed it all up and closed the rake without anything falling in the river.  And most importantly, he was quiet and very kind to me during and after.  He knew how embarrassed I was and he knew I’d do a better job securing implements before heading back to the barn in future!  I have shared this story with the kids when leaving them on their own to bring the equipment back in.

 And knowing what a fragile memory we all have, our family has also collected all kinds of items, photos, books and documents that will help future generations to remember what came before them.  My husband, David, has done a great job (monumental!) of loading all the family photos onto a cloud based server so they are all out there for all the family to see and share!

Do you work together as a family on community service or philanthropic efforts?

Some of us have been very active volunteering at the Sauvie Island Academy, and others with the Sauvie Island fire department. My sister and I are building a lending library structure with our book club to serve the school, grange and the community.  We also started the Eleanor and James Charlton Memorial Scholarship in 2010 for graduating high school seniors who’ve attended the island school or live on the island. We love our Island Community!

About The Charlton Kennels and Farm

The Charlton Farm was originally established on Sauvie Island in 1845 by Betsy Charlton Powell’s second-great grandparents. The Charlton Kennels business was founded in 1967 by fourth-generation family members Jim and Ellie Charlton. Today the farm and family business is owned and managed by fifth-generation siblings Betsy Charlton Powell and Kelly Charlton. The kennel offers boarding services for dogs and cats on the same bucolic farmland that’s been in the family for 173 years.

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